Birmingham, Alabama is blooming with influential women that are changing the community one day at a time!  Dr. Adrienne Starks is not only a mover and shaker in the social scene but the Founder and CEO of STREAM Innovations, Inc.  

I interviewed Dr. Starks and learned more about this dynamic woman in STEM.  Adrienne shared her best investment, favorite books, and advice on surviving failure.

BLOOM SPOTLIGHT:  Dr. Adrienne Starks 

  • When you think of the word “successful,” who’s the first person who comes to mind and why?

When I think of the word “successful” I think of having accomplishments and finding happiness in the midst of peaks and valleys. It’s hard to think of one person. I think of the tribe of women that I am connected with that are principals, professors, founders, executives, sisters, wives, and mothers. I am aware of their struggles and their accomplishments. I know about the long hours they spend working because we text about making being the last person in the office or working after putting the kids to bed. I know the sacrifices they make attempting to balance expectations of being the best wife and/or mom. They are successful because every day they choose to be better humans and try harder to reach personal and professional goals.

  • What is something you believe that other people think is insane?

I believe there is abundance in our world and there is enough of whatever you need around you to be…happy, successful, and fulfilled. However, more people allow the fear of scarcity to limit how they view and experience the world around them. This view of scarcity presents itself in withholding love, hoarding advice, and resources, or only supporting a single idea/cause/organization because there is a belief that there is only enough for one. I am continuously working on applying this principle to my life and how I interact with the world around me. This idea could be perceived as insane because it contradicts the notion that only one or a few people can be successful or that one person holds the key to your success. I prefer to believe there an abundance of whatever I need around me and I have to adjust how I view the world to see the numerous opportunities in front of me.

  • What is the book (or books) you’ve given most as a gift?

I have given The Alchemist (1988) by Paulo Coelho to people on my team and highly recommended it to friends and family. When the book was recommended to me, I was skeptical that it was as good of a read as a friend claimed. After reading the book, I understood why it has been celebrated around the world for over 30 years. I always recommend the book to friends that are questioning their purpose and searching for answers to their heart’s desires.

  • What is your favorite documentary or movie?

My absolute favorite movie is Love Jones (1997). I rooted for Nina and Darius’s love and identified with how miscommunication can lead to mistrust in a relationship. The fusion of music and poetry was a major influence in the movie. The incomparable John Coltrane was introduced to me in this movie and his song “Love Supreme” became a personal favorite. I also appreciated the depiction of adult friendships between men and women and how the main characters close friends held them responsible when they made misguided decisions.

I also enjoy watching documentaries of individuals that are creatives (fashion, food, tech) and how they choose to push boundaries to make their vision a reality. It’s a personal reminder that everyone may not believe in your idea or see your vision, however, you have to continue to speak life into your vision and fight for your perspective to be great.

  • What purchase of $ 100 or less has most positively impacted your life in the last 6 months?

I love all things used to organize my life. I could be categorized as a Type A personally. I jumped on the Bullet Journal bandwagon and attempted to stay true to a system of order with my business. Unfortunately, November and December 2019 did not want to cooperate with my system. I have also purchased containers/cases for home and office that will allow me to put my hands on any item I need within seconds. The feeling of satisfaction when I don’t have to waste time looking for something has positively impacted my life and my sanity.

  • What are your morning rituals? What do the first 60 minutes of your day look like?

I wish I had a good morning ritual.

My ideal way to spend the first 60 minutes of my morning would consist of stretching (yoga), meditation and prayer, drinking water to begin rehydrating for the day, check my phone for any pressing issues and heading out for a morning run before starting my day.

During the summer, I live by an hourly to-do list because we (STREAM Innovations) have multiple programs running for students across Jefferson County, AL. I always want to make sure our team is prepared, and I try to stay a few steps ahead of everything and everyone.

  • What obsessions do you explore in the evenings or on weekends?

I don’t believe I have any obsessions. I’ll meet up with my girlfriends after work or go for a hike on the weekend if the weather permits.

If you asked close friends and family, they might say I have an obsession with STREAM Innovations because I work evenings and weekends. They might be right, but don’t tell them that I agreed with them.

  • What topic would you speak about if you were asked to give a TED talk on something outside of your main area of expertise?

If I was asked to give a TED talk on an area outside of my expertise, I would speak about the influence of music on human emotions.

We all have personal soundtracks or playlists that promote a specific feeling or goes with our mood. We choose music that will usher us into God’s presence, motivate us in the gym, provide a sense of calm after a long day, spark a passionate desire with a significant other, or hype us up for a night out. We all have memories associated with certain songs and sometimes a song will remind you of a person, an experience, or a time in your life. As a scientist, I would discuss the psychological and physiological reactions that occur when we experience our favorite songs and provide evidence for the profound effect music has on our lives.

If I asked anyone to list their top 5 songs for any category, it would consist of songs they have attached to a memory. When people discuss their favorite songs, they may compare lyrics, melody, beats, or the range and ability of the artists, but it is all connected to how they experienced the song and the emotions evoked while listening to the song.

  • What is the best or most worthwhile investment you’ve made? It could be an investment of money, time, energy, or other resources. How did you decide to make the investment?

One of the most worthwhile investments I’ve made has been in me. I’ve traveled to a few spas in the US and abroad because I enjoy the calmness and sense of rejuvenation after investing in my well-being. During my last year in graduate school, I booked a few days to the Woodloch Resort in the Poconos, PA. I was stressed, tense, and physically and emotionally on edge from working 20-hr days for weeks and enduring the mental rigor of completing a dissertation that felt like it would never end. I had a membership at a local massage spot, but I needed something more extensive because I had lost focus, I was not resting when I slept, and I could not find the ability to disconnect from my daily routine to gain new perspectives. My all-inclusive get-away allowed me to change my environment. I signed up for yoga and T’ai Chi classes, change my routine with cooking demos and painting, and of course saunas, massages, and more. I could finally refocus, and I gained a new appreciation in taking care of myself. As I reflect on this trip, I realize I am overdue for another get-away.

  • Do you have a quote you live your life by or think of often?

My dad shared a quoted with me in graduate school that I have never forgotten. “Success is not final, and failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts” – Winston Churchill

  • What is the worst advice you see or hear being dispensed in your world?

I believe we miseducate students by asking them to pick a job or career they may want to pursue for the rest of their life without providing exposure or experiences to help them identify if they have a passion for a particular field. I believe technology will disrupt traditional jobs and careers in ways that no one can imagine. We cannot continue to give students advice based on the belief that a job will be waiting for you after college. We must advise to identifying their gift/ passion and connect it to a need. If students can identify a need and use technology to make addressing that need easier, faster or better, then they can change their community or the world.

  • If you could have one gigantic billboard anywhere with anything on it, what would it say?

Kasserian ingera ~ “How are the children?”

This is the traditional greeting between the African Masai warriors which acknowledges the great value they place on their children’s well-being. Even warriors with no children of their own would give the traditional answer, “all the children are well.”

I think we forget the importance of making sure all children from every walk of life are well.

  • What advice would you give to your 20-, 25-, or 30-year-old self? And please place where you were at the time, and what you were doing.

My advice for my 20-year-old self at AAMU would be to not panic about the future and live in the present. Travel like a college student and take a few backpacking trips across the states and out of the country.

My advice for my 25-year-old self at UMBC would be to learn to speak up for yourself in spaces that make you uncomfortable. Develop friends with more international colleagues because you always need a familiar face somewhere in around the world.

My advice for my 30-year-old self at NIH would be to not take failure personally. Sometimes closed doors are needed to give you perspective and it helps make you relatable when people ask if you’ve ever know failure.

  • How has a failure, or apparent failure, set you up for later success? Or, do you have a favorite failure of yours?

Failure has made me fearless and cynical. Being a scientist has meant a healthy relationship with failure because you’re testing assumptions and observing if it meets or fails to meet your hypothesis. Failure in business is oftentimes subjective, therefore a cynic was born.

  • What is something really weird or unsettling that happens to you on a regular basis?

A weird thing that happens but on a regular basis is when I dream, I can return to previous dreams or shift between dreams within the same night. I have recurring dreams as most people do but I can return to a dream from previous nights if I think of it. It may not be the weirdest thing ever, but it’s my thing.

  • What have you changed your mind about in the last few years? Why?

Over the past few years, I have changed my view of my mortality. I ascribed to the YOLO (You Only Live Once) motto when I was younger, but with age, I have focused more on how I live my life. I am more intentional with the decisions I make and how it impacts people around me. I would rather address a situation and resolve it then to allow years to pass without resolution. I no longer believe that I will get a second chance to do something I could have done the first time around. I value creating a legacy (family and business) and having my values live in my family and what I have created. I plan to spend more time with family and friends because at any moment the chance to show love, forgive, or create memories can be taken away forever.

  • What do you believe is true, even though you can’t prove it?

Love and power are two of the strongest intangible forces that people desire, whether yielding to it or using it for personal satisfaction. Often times, men and women have different expectations of how love and power can be shown or received in daily interactions. The pursuit of love and/or power has a major influence on our daily thoughts, actions, and plans. We have all made 5-or 10- year plans that have included timelines for relationships and marriage or career changes (going to school or starting new businesses). Our concept of happiness is often rooted in whether we have love in our life or our perception of power to control life choices. I believe we place significant value on how love is shown and received from our family, partners, and friends. I believe too often we measure success by the power and influence we have over others and not how we empower others for collective success. I can’t prove love and power are motivating factors for everyone, but I see the influence of these two forces in my life.

  • Any ask or request for my audience? Last parting words?

Dr. Freeman Hrabowski, President of UMBC, my alma mater for graduate school would often say,

“Watch your thoughts because they become your words. Watch your words because they become your actions. Watch your actions because they become your character. What your character because it becomes your destiny.”

In this new decade, I want to be more intentional with my thoughts, words, actions, and character because I want my destiny to reflect a life well-lived.

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