Diversity, equity and inclusion are core pillars of the culture we are working to build at Verily. We are privileged to work alongside individuals with varied perspectives and backgrounds, including Dr. Richard M. Stewart, proud Latino, Native American, and Head of Regulatory Affairs. We sat down with Richardto learn more about his background and journey to the STEM (science, technologies, engineering and mathematics) fields.
Where did you grow up?
I’m a California Bay Area native; I spent my adolescence in San Francisco and attended Mission High. My family has a deep rooted history in California, going back generations to the californios, or native Californians who lived here before U.S. annexation. One of my favorite sayings is that “we didn’t cross the border — the border crossed us.” I grew up in a traditional working class Mexican American household. My father is a Lakota Native American, so I split my time between San Francisco and a reservation in the Dakotas, bordering the Washington state area. I’m a University of California graduate, and majored in neuroscience for my undergraduate and master’s degrees. I went on to complete a PhD in biological sciences, with a focus on molecular biology: stem cells. At USC Keck School of Medicine as a post-doctoral scholar, I developed novel methods of targeted gene therapy using adeno-associated viral vectors.
What inspired you to pursue a career in science?
Because I didn’t see role models working in the sciences within my community, I did not initially consider a STEM career. After I graduated high school, I took advantage of the junior college system. That was when I really started to apply myself, understand the value of education, and connect with it. I was strong in math and science, and I began to view the steps needed to carve out a path in STEM as attainable, but challenging milestones.
Did you encounter any challenges along the way?
There are a number of common historical challenges faced by marginalized groups in the US: being underrepresented, underprepared, and underresourced. I overcame different adversities in both my professional and academic experiences, including being perceived as not fitting a particular mold as I progressed academically through my PhD and post-doctoral program. I’ve also had my fair share of experiences where I stood out at the leadership table among more conventionally represented groups. That said, I was able to identify key mentors who were supportive and did a lot to ensure I had a line of sight and communication, and a seat at the table to participate and grow professionally, while contributing to company successes.
Verily has provided an exemplary environment, supporting diversity and inclusion. I feel right at home here.
Can you talk a bit about your career path?
I started out as a research scientist, working for a startup incubated at the University of Southern California's Center of Genetic Medicine. This gave me pragmatic exposure to the startup environment, the life sciences industry, and academic research — the best of both worlds. I learned how to be scrappy and versatile, which primed me for subsequent roles in industry. I started in the scientific domain, and eventually moved from research and development to product commercialization. I gravitated toward regulatory affairs and quality, the functions that ensure medical products are safe and effective for use, and created in a streamlined, cost-effective manner.
What’s one thing you want your community to know about pursuing careers in STEM?
The pressing scale of societal and healthcare challenges demand high tech solutions, and these industries are recognizing the value of diversity in order to ensure their services are accessible and valuable to all. Today’s challenges require a high level of training in STEM. We need novel approaches, and to train our next generation of thinkers to broach problems that have persisted for generations in new ways.
Particularly in healthcare and health tech, it’s important for people from all backgrounds to be represented at all levels. One way we can achieve this is through greater product inclusion, or embedding insights on different groups’ unique needs, interests, and pain points into product development. Many studies have shown that type of inclusive organizational and design strategies are also ultimately very profitable.
What can companies do to support people in your community?
Companies can support local STEM chapters that provide mentoring, workshops and training to underrepresented communities at various ages. Combined with an internship program, this can go a long way to support people who may lack visible role models in STEM and give them an opportunity to invent themselves in the field.
What do you like about working at Verily?
I love the creative energy and pace to develop novel technologies. I’m enamored by the culture and vision, Verily’s principles of excellence, and how the organization strives to set the bar in everything we do. Cross-functionally, I’ve worked with individuals in and out of STEM who uphold Verily’s values.
At Verily, we have a diversity and inclusion focused group called Mosaic. Why are groups like Mosaic helpful and important?
The diversity of viewpoints and experiences Mosaic represents is a value-add insight into how we conduct business at Verily, how we interact with one another, and how we maintain compassion for others. Mosaic influences day-to-day business decisions and how we think about product development and supports our DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) Council. They also sponsor fun networking and bonding initiatives and events, including virtual gatherings where people can share ideas and thoughts. Especially in this time, it’s uplifting to have that space where you feel comfortable to express yourself.
Is there a project you’re particularly proud to have led?
Within Regulatory Affairs, as part of a cross-functional collaboration involving many groups across Verily, I supported FDA emergency use authorization for pooled COVID-19 PCR tests and Study Watch 510(k) clearances, and regulatory strategies for new devices. This was extremely rewarding to be part of, because we’re able to collectively impact public health.
To learn more about career opportunities at Verily, visit verily.com/careers.