Creators For Good: Penny Tovar On Why Representation Matters In Education And STEM

By 12/10/2019
Creators For Good: Penny Tovar On Why Representation Matters In Education And STEM

In this installment of a new and occasionally occurring Creators for Good series, Lina Renzina – who handles talent relations and partnerships at the Ad Council – will sit down with a creator to learn more about how they’re using their voice to make a difference. And for more on the What and Why of the series, check out the first installment right here

Penny Tovar gained notoriety on YouTube with her curly hair care videos, but it was the ideas and opinions inside her head that earned the admiration of her 1.3 million subscribers. An advocate for women and girls in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), education in the Hispanic community, gender acceptance, sustainability, and more, Tovar is dedicated to using her platform — from her YouTube channel to her leadership role at the United Nations’ first-ever Youth Climate Summit — to raise awareness for the issues she’s most passionate about.

Recently, Tovar partnered with the Ad Council to raise awareness around the gender discrepancies in STEM. At the Creators for Good She Can STEM Summit, she educated digital and traditional talent on how to discuss women’s and girls’ participation in STEM, and inspired them to share how they STEM with their audiences.


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She also recently brought awareness to the high school graduation rates among Hispanic students, which are the lowest in the country. At Hispanicize, the largest annual event for Latinx trendsetters and newsmakers, Tovar spoke on the The Diploma Effect: Inspiring Change One High School Diploma at a Time panel about her personal education journey, and encouraged others to finish their diploma.

Tovar hopes to inspire others to speak their truth, use their platforms for social good, and be change-makers.

Lina Renzina: What led you to start creating content online?

Penny Tovar: When I first started taking care of my curly hair, I watched a lot of YouTube videos on natural curly hair care. I learned a lot on the topic and became very passionate about it. My husband, Martin, saw how eager I was to share my curly hair advice, so he gave me the idea to make YouTube videos. I thought he was crazy at first, but he helped me with everything. He helped me create my channel in 2013, and together we thought of my first channel name, CurlyPenny. My first video was called, Healthy & Natural Curly Hair Care + Tips!, and I just kept uploading. I later changed my name — in 2018 — to Penny Tovar, because I wanted to branch out.

LR: You frequently speak to important issues through comedy, humanity, and kindness across your channels. What inspired you to use your platform for social good?

PT: Honestly, I just can’t stand listening to myself sound like a brain-dead sheep. There is so much going on in the world, with people, media, government, and the environment, and these things needs to be said. Of course, I like to have fun, goof around, and make fun of myself. But I want to use my platform to make people think about things that matter, along with a good laugh.

LR: Recently you attended the Creators for Good She Can STEM Summit to share your passion for science, technology, engineering, and math. How do you STEM?

PT: Yeah, that was super fun! I’m a licensed registered nurse and am going to finish my bachelor’s degree this month, and I am so excited! Some people don’t consider nursing to be STEM, but I had had to take extensive courses on anatomy, physiology, biology, psychology, and microbiology. You can’t be a nurse if you can’t STEM.

LR: What or who encouraged you to pursue your passions in STEM and become a nurse?

PT: I owe it all to my friend in high school, Karla Garnica. In junior year, a program called “Skills Center” came to visit our school to recruit kids for their program, which is basically a tech school for high schoolers. Karla asked me, “Want to go to the orientation with me?” and I said, “Sure.” I went to the orientation with my dad, and he told me I should do the Applied Medical Science program, so I did. I learned anatomy, physiology, nursing skills, and medical terminology, and I fell in love with it. I was actually the best student in my class, which inspired me to pursue nursing.

LR: Women constitute 50% of the U.S.’s college-educated workforce, but only 25% of the STEM workforce. What advice do you have for girls and women who might be interested in pursuing a career in STEM fields?

PT: It’s hard to feel inspired to pursue positions in fields where there is little to no representation. This representation worsens even more for women of color; it almost feels as if we don’t belong there, and that’s exactly why representation matters. We need women to be brave enough to be the only woman in their class, because they will inspire more women to join. The same way Karla helped me to pursue STEM, we can help each other.

LR: You’re an outspoken advocate for education, especially within the Hispanic community. Why is this cause one you’re so passionate about?

PT: My parents immigrated from Mexico, and neither of them were able to finish school because they had hard lives. My mother was an orphan and had to drop out of second grade to start working and support herself. Her story is not uncommon — many immigrants have a background of pain and hardships. Hispanic females in general have the worst pay and low graduation rates. This breaks my heart because it is my people, my community. I am a first-generation high school and college graduate, so I know how hard it is to take that first step. I know what it’s like to fail a class because you can’t understand English. I know what it’s like to cry out of frustration because you think you’re stupid. There are a lot of cultural hurdles that can be conquered if we just band together and encourage one another.

LR: You recently spoke on our panel at Hispanicize, where we discussed the fact that one in three Hispanic adults do not currently have a high school diploma. Could you share a little more as to what this campaign means to you?

PT: To me, this campaign is about encouraging Latinos to be pioneers of education in their family. As I mentioned before, I am a first-generation high school and college graduate, which has created a difference in my family. I was able to help my little sister go to college, and now she is helping her cousin apply to college. It’s a chain reaction that will ripple through generations and create a culture of education in the family.

LR: What advice would you give to those pursuing their education, both in high school and after?

PT: You can do it! I know it’s hard, it may even seem impossible sometimes, but don’t give up! You don’t have to do it alone. There are people just like you who are in the same position. Don’t be afraid to seek help and support.

LR: What other causes do you hope to bring attention to through your content?

PT: I like to challenge gender norms by being myself. Although I am a straight cis female, my gender expression is fluid. I want to inspire people to find confidence in their comfort, even if it confuses other people. It isn’t healthy to place your happiness in societal acceptance, because beauty standards are always changing, and they’re usually very toxic. Be comfortable, be yourself, and if people don’t like you, that’s their loss.

LR: Do you have any tips to share with other creators like you who want to use their platforms to make a lasting social impact?

PT: If something is weighing on your heart, speak out! I know the algorithm doesn’t boost views on morale, but you should make content you are proud of. Don’t be enslaved to views, money, or the algorithm. Creators should find fulfillment in making a difference, not gaining views or wealth. You’ll be much happier.

Tovar is represented by SCALE Management and Abrams Artists Agency.

Lina leads Creators for Good, the Ad Council’s talent engagement program, which matches traditional and digital talent with the organization’s purpose-driven marketing initiatives. Working directly with talent, these partnerships have reached millions to drive impact surrounding such important causes as suicide prevention, breast cancer risk awareness and diversity and inclusion.

Her background in theatrical producing, marketing and talent management is a testament to her passion for the arts, authentically reaching audiences through digital storytelling. You can connect with Lina on LinkedIn.

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