A New Jersey native and recent New Yorker, Maddie Pensiero works in strategic communications for global health. She’s dedicated to finding creative ways to tell stories about some of the world’s most challenging health issues, from infectious diseases like malaria to contraceptive access and reproductive health. On the side, Maddie enjoys finding new hobbies that help keep her feeling grounded and confident. We sat down with Maddie to learn more about what makes her feel powerful both in and outside of work.
You went to an all-girls high school. How did you make that decision, and why?
When I got to middle school, I was incredibly shy and nervous to speak up, especially in class. I’m so grateful to my parents for recognizing that I wasn’t in the best environment to succeed and for encouraging me to explore other options for high school, where I might have the chance to feel more empowered. I wasn’t sure about all-girls school, especially considering how groups of women (especially young women) were portrayed on TV – catty, petty, and mean – but I realized quickly that the media doesn’t have things right. I’m so grateful I got to learn that at such a young age. It was just such a collaborative environment, and we really built each other up. I was able to take a lot of lessons I learned from high school to college and beyond – in terms of my world view and how I expected myself and other women to be treated and represented.
“For me, I think being powerful is having the chance to make your own decisions for yourself. But what matters most is what you do with the power that you have, and how you work to empower those around you.”
How has your transition to “adulting” been?
I think ‘adulting’ can definitely be hard sometimes, and it’s something that I’ve been trying to figure out how to do right since graduating. When I first started working, I had the mindset that I wanted to be the first one at my desk in the morning and the last one to leave. When I looked around me, the people in places that I wanted to go, and getting to do the work that I wanted to do, were doing just that. I still think that’s the right approach, but something I’ve been working on is finding balance between work and personal time. In order to do your best work, you have to find and do the things outside of work that refuel you, otherwise you are working on ’empty’ which isn’t useful to anyone. I’ve been testing different hobbies recently, and I think I’ve really landed on something cool with embroidery. I did some digging on Instagram and found some incredible artists, went to some classes, and then started experimenting on my own. It’s cool to have something to come home to that’s artistic – it feels so good to use a different part of my brain. I know that sounds so simple, but to be able to make something with my hands when I haven’t been able to do that all day is pretty cool. So that’s one of my attempts at balanced adulting – stay tuned!
What did you find interesting about embroidery?
I attended a class with an artist that I follow, and her whole approach was to experiment and follow your gut, very much like, ‘you do what you want, you don’t have to stay between the lines. If you want to do this extra stitch, you can, or you don’t have to.’ Work is exciting and interesting and challenging, but it’s nice to come home and say to myself, ‘well if you want to put a red thread there, then do it.’ It’s pretty fun, and it feels like when I switch to an activity that’s different from my work during the day, I can be more effective when coming back to the original. So, my roommate and I stitch together and that’s some good, wholesome fun. It definitely feels good to realize that I don’t have to do just what I did in college forever – I can try something new, enjoy it, and meet interesting people along the way.
“I think it’s important to find balance between work and personal time – definitely a work in progress for me. In order to do your best work, you have to be able to find the things outside of work that refuel you, otherwise you are working on ’empty’ which isn’t useful to anyone.”
What does it mean for you to be powerful?
For me, I think being powerful is having the chance to make your own decisions based on where you are at any moment or the situation that you’re in. I’ve always been humbled by the fact that just by chance, I grew up with an amazing family in a great environment and with resources at my disposal – options about things like where I wanted to go to high school and college, and even much more fundamental decisions than that. I think that a major part of being powerful is what you do with the power you have. In what ways are you using power to empower others? I think at the end of the day, that for me is the power that matters. What you do with what you have, how you share and elevate voices beyond your own. That’s part of what I enjoy about my job. At the end of the day, I’m many, many, many steps removed from the people who are on the ground in communities driving progress, in the lab developing the next big cure, or in the legislature making policy. But to find a way to tell a story a little more compellingly, to elevate a voice, and to get other people engaged in making that difference, that’s pretty cool stuff.