Smith College, B.A., History
Cal State Los Angeles, M.S., Geology
In science, Jess Peláez says, you don't understand something until you can replicate it. And after living in Australia and Mexico and working around the world, Jess realized no one had a complete understanding, or replications, of the Earth's very diverse environments. She decided society needed Blueprint Earth — so she did what any budding entrepreneur would and started it herself.
Blueprint Earth is an environmental scientific research nonprofit that’s attempting to catalog a part of the Mojave Desert in enough detail to then recreate a living desert inside a warehouse. As co-founder and CEO, Jess gets to wear many hats; variation that suits a woman who started with a liberal arts degree, then got a science degree and has skills honed from 15 years of working in fields as varied as veterinary medicine to software sales.
Jess is proud that Blueprint Earth is achieving unprecedented levels of collaboration across different scientific fields. She’s also proud of the diversity her organization brings to the field: to date, six of Blueprint Earth’s nine board members are women, 71 percent of their researchers have been female and 50 percent have been minorities. Another big coup? Blueprint Earth is also entirely crowdfunded!
It's rare to accomplish something great without challenging yourself first.
What responsibilities do you have as a co-founder and CEO?
My days are never the same. Because we're such a young organization, I wear many hats, including recruiting scientists, creating brochures and networking with donors. I also get to hop on social media and drum up support for us that way, too. I set things in motion and then work hard to keep them going!
What’s the greatest part of your job?
I've had an absolute blast working with young science students out in the field. Taking them out into the desert and watching their eyes light up as they marvel at the beauty of our planet is absolutely incredible.
What aspect of your job makes you feel it’s the right fit for you?
Blueprint Earth's dramatic growth and continual flux is wonderful for me, since I'm a jack-of-all-trades kind of gal. I get to use my scientific, artistic and strategic brains equally. I love having set of problems that need solving, but also flexibility in how I use my time.
What challenges keep you awake at night?
I'm focused on ensuring we have adequate funding to accomplish our mission, which is always the challenge of running a new, lesser-known nonprofit. Getting the public excited about our work is easy. Getting them to contribute financially is the key to helping us grow.
Is work/life balance difficult for you? If so, what’s one no-fail tactic you employ to balance yourself?
It certainly can be. Because I work at home a good deal of the time, when we're not out in the desert, my hours aren't clearly defined. I use my pets as a reminder of the world outside the office — it's always good to re-balance by throwing a ball for one of my dogs or spending time with my horse.
Have you had a success with Blueprint Earth that you’re particularly proud of?
Blueprint Earth gained Associated Society status with the Geological Society of America in January. And as a result, I attended the GSA Associated Society meeting in March. As I sat at the table with heads of major scientific organizations I respect, I was truly proud of what’s been created.
What are some personal rules you live by?
I have two main rules I follow. The first is that anything worth doing is difficult, which is a constant push to dig in and finish what I've started. The second is to say yes to everything. That one reminds me that it's rare to accomplish something great without challenging yourself first.
What qualities does someone need to be successful as the leader of a nonprofit?
Founders and CEOs need to be natural risk-takers, but also have a good grasp of reality and their own personal skills and limitations. Knowing when to say you don't know something is key, but following that up with, "but I'll do my best to find out," is even better.
What advice do you wish you could tell a younger version of yourself?
Take all of those jobs you're interested in! The most valuable present you can give yourself in today's world of constant change is a wide range of skills. Don't worry about a career just yet. Worry about the knowledge and experience you're gaining. Your only pressure should come from within.