Yalda T. Uhls, PhD: Founder and Executive Director, Center for Scholars & Storytellers, UCLA educator
The #SheInnovates stories team sat down with Yalda T. Uhls to discuss the role of women in innovation. Get involved at She Innovates Global.
#SheInnovates Stories: Innovation is solving the world's problems. What problem are you solving?
Yalda T. Uhls: Stories are a powerful socializing mechanism, and can teach both positive and negative lessons. Children—in particular those from lower-income families—spend more time consuming media than they do sleeping, attending school, or being with their parents. Researchers in child development and social science study how children learn and how to positively impact them. At the Center for Scholars & Storytellers, we bring together researchers and content creators to harness the power of storytelling, and help the next generation thrive and grow.
#SheInnovates: When did you realize your innovation was a breakthrough?
YU: I spent years as a senior executive in the film business, and then left that career to get a PhD in child development. The research in my field is fascinating and I felt certain that content creators would be interested. However, no systematic mechanism exists to facilitate knowledge sharing between creators and academics with respect to youth programming. Moreover, the two fields operate as silos. As I began to test my theory, by sharing research at Hollywood events and through online newsletters, I found that both groups were engaged and excited about coming together and learning from each other.
#SheInnovates: What were some unexpected obstacles you overcame in the innovation process?
YU: It took time for me to feel confident enough to leave the job I had, and make the leap to launch my own organization. In addition, as someone who is trying to bridge two worlds (academia and entertainment), I sometimes feel like I don’t belong in either. Traditionalists in academia sometimes don’t understand the value in what we are trying to accomplish, and getting the attention of busy executives with other priorities can be challenging. Luckily, we have many allies in both fields who do understand and are embracing our work.
#SheInnovates: What inspires you to love your work?
YU: I love stories, research, and children. I believe that stories can change the world in positive ways. When a story resonates, the results are powerful.
#SheInnovates: What do you hope that young women coming behind you take from your work?
YU: It’s okay to forge your own way. Own what is unique about you. Someone with brown skin, like myself, can be successful.
#SheInnovates: Why are women in innovation important?
YU: Women bring their unique lens to every situation. Diverse groups are critical in solving the world’s problems. Without women being part of the equation (work, government, home, etc.), the likelihood is that we will no longer innovate, and instead we will stagnate.
Interviews have been lightly edited for clarity and length.