WoW : Meet Our Women of Webb – Monique (Mo) Sinmao
We continue our profiles of Webb alumni by observing March as Women’s History Month and celebrating the achievements of WoW – the Women of Webb – and recognizing the barriers they have faced. Women have made significant contributions to the field of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) throughout history despite facing many obstacles and discrimination. Their hard work and determination serve as a model for us all, no matter our gender.
The maritime industry today provides more opportunities to women than in the past, but that transition does not happen quickly. Our first author shows us that women have been breaking barriers in male-dominated fields for decades.
Meet Monique (Mo) Sinmao. Mo manages wealth for high-net-worth clients, and raises capital for STEM-heavy businesses. She transitioned from engineering to finance and found that these two sectors share many common themes. She recalled her time at Webb where she gained real-life, tough experiences that prepared her for navigating through crises in her future career and life.
Mo’s story offers invaluable advice. She reminds us that STEM, and life, require a mindset of applied problem-solving and the willingness to take risks. She emphasizes the importance of a mentor and the benefits of a support system.
What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math)?
We could have been stranded. Our new car broke down in North Carolina enroute to Disney World. Another driver behind us on the highway pulled up, fixed it, and sent us on our way, taking nothing in return. He was a mechanic and engineer for Chrysler and knew the exact design and production flaw. I think of STEM as applied problem-solving across categories, as shown by my family’s highway hero. After that, I immersed myself in how things work and not just how they turn on. I had four very different cars while at Webb, gas and diesel. My dad wanted to foster the attitude and capacity to fix anything. Then one day, while in the pit at Webb changing out a starter, two sets of professors’ legs walked by as they left the Diesel Lab discussing who they felt were natural engineers. Not one female student was mentioned. I sensed a lack of support. My heart could sink or inspire my STEM drive even more. This underdog chose the latter.
What did you plan to do with your degree from Webb?
My first goal was shallow and predictably local (Washington DC): find the most difficult engineering program and work for the military. After the graphic media coverage of damages to Prince William Sound following the Exxon Valdez oil spill (my senior year in high school), I took a broader interest in ship design. What are the specifications of a double hull to be sufficiently protective? What are the design and operational consequences?
And, profoundly, what is a “rock” or “grounding scenario” so that we can even define failure sequence and damage thresholds to withstand? After all, crash test dummies conjure common accident scenarios defined for autos.
It took Webb and then MIT to join ship structural design with operating environment modeling, using kinematic theory – solidly back to STEM.
Do you think Webb prepared you well for real-life experiences?
No college prepares you for the range of “black swans” (unexpected experiences) like Webb. I chose Webb over MIT undergrad for being the most difficult engineering program considering the intense curriculum, grueling work requirements, resource density per student, Honor Code, and demanding immersive campus culture.
My Sea Term on a NASSCO-built oil tanker was a major milestone experience. I bungeed into a cargo tank to inspect structural damage after a grounding event. We flipped from the idyllic East Coast/St. Croix route to a winter North Atlantic crossing when the Iraqi military suddenly set fire to oil wells at the onset of the Gulf War in January 1991. We hauled equipment lines in gumby suits (green neoprene exposure suits with two fingers per hand). I watched 40-50’ waves swallow the entire bow of our tanker on bridge watch in the Bay of Biscay (aka Graveyard of Seafarers).
Despite the stormy conditions, Jeanne (a classmate) and I managed to draft our ship schematics. Our superstitious Captain blamed the women on board for the storms and gave me a poor review; I got an A+ from Professor Rowen.
Fast forward to my future career on Wall Street: boiler rooms and financial crises – no matter how “great” – were just another Sea Term to navigate through.
You also transitioned from engineering to finance, but still in the STEM field. What made you change course?
I have transitioned titles and fields but what I do at the core has not changed. Many seemingly distinct careers share the ethos of core engineering such as systems analysis, risk management, and prediction. Setting aside degree labels, I began to understand the essence of what I was becoming good at is decision-oriented analysis with incomplete inputs, dynamic systems, and risk-adjusted outcomes.
Finance and engineering share common toolkits like coding, regression analysis, feasibility analysis, and quantitative modeling. Engineering practice, where we regularly break things to understand limits, has been a powerful tool in finance where practitioners often rely on equations to measure risks without first dissecting the equations’ limits.
Most people would say the 2007–2008 financial crisis, or Global Financial Crisis, was caused by toxic mortgage-backed securities blowing up and taking down the global financial system. In reality, only the thinnest slice of mortgages blew up. What happened was the risk models (used to price mortgages) first underpriced risk and then grossly overpriced all classes of risks, due to how the models factored in contagion. Those who understood the fragility of the equations, versus real risk, made 8-10x returns by buying back the seemingly deeply impaired securities.
What do you find most rewarding about your work?
Today I manage wealth for high-net-worth clients. Like Webb’s endowment, which is managed to provide long-term funding for the school and its students, I manage complex return and liquidity needs sustained over generations of family wealth. I previously managed money for institutions in a range of roles and investment styles. Managing private wealth is more challenging, and also more rewarding, due to the human element.
By steering clear of Wall Street institutional roles, I can now engage in building and raising capital for startups without conflict of interest. I am at heart an engineer, a builder if you will – previously building teams with behemoth companies and now creating the concept and teams from inception. In this role, I have gravitated to STEM-heavy businesses that touch financial engineering, risk management, blockchain, sustainability, cryptographic securities, and regulation. The work is never done at startup/emerging companies, and it is rewarding working with high caliber individuals with a kaleidoscope of skills, with innovation in their DNA. Occasionally, the work revisits maritime (and Webbies) which is a bonus for me.
Have you had any mentors or role models who influenced your career?
Three people strongly influenced my career.
When I was 12, one teacher nonchalantly suggested I take a test when I returned from vacation. I scored well, got a certificate, and visited my first college. It turns out this was an SAT test. I was nowhere ready for college, but her challenging advice allowed me to get into Thomas Jefferson High School for Science & Technology, which prepared me well for the pressures of college.
After Webb and MIT, I set my sights on business school at Georgetown where my dean, professors, and classmates all had discouraging advice regarding a naval architect’s prospects on Wall Street. My capstone project advisor, Christine Brennan at Oxford University’s summer program, said you’re really good at this so stick with it. Turn by turn, I steered my skills into a coveted corner of the job market where only 2% women land hedge fund portfolio manager seats. Years later, one Georgetown professor saw my progress on LinkedIn and wrote that my experience helped him revisit how he works with future students.
Finally, my first job on Wall Street was at Lehman Brothers. My first boss, Chip Dickson, remains a friend 23 years later. He took a risk on my engineering background, allowing me to analyze the most complex financial institutions in the world. Compared to most goods and services companies, the financial engineering in these companies starts at the deepest end of the Ocean, from zero. He warned me that once I could read financial statements and understand the global financial system, I would never see the world the same way again. He was right.
What do you think can be done to encourage more girls and young women to pursue careers in STEM?
Foster interest in asking questions, try things out, dialog: all are important. One good thing leads to another. Those people who took risks on me motivated me to take risks for myself. Taking risks is essential to developing skills and focusing your time on building those skills. Risk-taking and feedback are an on-going iterative process.
Providing nonlinear perspectives can be illuminating. STEM does not crowd out or exist apart from other interests. Before STEM, I found my way first to creative writing, literature, art, and performing arts. STEM switched the light on for other dimensions of these other interests. In poetry and music, there is math. In classical and Hawaiian dance, the instruments, sets, and costumes involve design, engineering, and technology.
What advice do you have for Webb students on life after graduation?
Make thoughtful and honest decisions for yourself. For success and happiness, aim for the intersection between what you love doing, what you are committed to becoming excellent at, and the kinds of people you want to be around. Even when way off course, one of those three will lift you.
Own your path. The things that stand between you and your goals won’t be unique to Webb. Don’t depend on others – family, faculty, and friends – to remove roadblocks for you; practice coming up with solutions and invite their feedback to find your path around obstacles, work your way to a stronger position, and fix the things you care about.
Your own validation is powerful. People won’t always understand your strengths and weaknesses along the way. Sometimes you have to cheer yourself on until your results are fully baked for others to see.
M. Spenser Boyd Joins Webb Institute Faculty
Webb Institute is pleased to announce that Spenser Boyd has joined the faculty as Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering and has taken on the new role of Sustainability Coordinator.
Spenser, a practicing energy and systems engineer with a focus on sustainability, graduated from Webb in 2017 and earned his M.Eng. in Energy Systems from Lehigh University. He served as an adjunct professor at Webb in the 2022 fall semester and is currently completing his PhD dissertation on collaborative system simulations with George Washington University. As Assistant Professor he will teach courses in engineering science and marine engineering.
Webb recognizes the profound shift in ship design, propulsion, and fuel supply that will occur as the maritime industry decarbonizes over the next 25 years; we must prepare our graduates for the innovative technologies being developed. The Sustainability Coordinator will facilitate changes in the academic program to support this shift; bring leading speakers to Webb to share their knowledge; develop academic and industry partnerships in this sector; manage Webb’s sustainability conferences; and coordinate faculty participation across the sustainability space with increased research and professional development.
Spenser is well suited for this new role. He has conducted research in climate resilience in New York City, energy storage approaches for commercial and industrial facilities and modeling of complex systems. His ongoing research has covered sustainable system design and lifecycle decarbonization. Spenser has worked for an energy consultancy, NYSERDA, and a sustainable architecture design firm.
Spenser is excited to return to Webb with his wife, Anna, and help teach the next generations of industry leaders and launch Webb’s vision as a leader in maritime sustainability education.
The Ties that Bind: Wombi Rose ’09
Webb Institute has a vast network of alumni that spans all industries and sectors worldwide. No matter the path, our alumni are a tight-knit community ready to help one another and pave the way for others. In this spotlight, Webbies recognize the importance of sharing different perspectives and tell us how they began their journeys called “life.” Their stories comfort us during difficult times as well as create opportunities for personal growth. We have learned that when we share our experiences and learn from each other, we create ties that last a lifetime.
We are proud to launch this Webb’s Alumni Spotlight series: The Ties that Bind with Wombi Rose ’09,
co-founder of Lovepop. Lovepop creates unique 3D pop-up card designs for every occasion, and is on a mission to create one billion magical moments. Not only is Wombi a great proponent of Webb – always reminiscing how he began his journey as a naval architect in his many interviews, but he also embodies what “connection” means.
Connecting with others brings a sense of belonging, and when you top that off with pursuing your passion and doing things you love, you get a fulfilling and enriched sense of life. Seeing Wombi and his co-founder, John Wise ‘09, find success with Lovepop motivates us all to be passionate in our endeavors and fully engage in the process.
As Valentine’s Day approaches, Lovepop showcases that doing things with “love” brings you and those around you a sense of joy. More than a business, Lovepop is creating jobs and opportunities here in the US and around the globe. They have built a 200+ person design and production organization in central Vietnam with the vision to create a regional hub for design talent there, building capacity and skills, while creating magical moments along the way.
Let’s see how Wombi, John, and Lovepop are forming cultures and bringing communities together.
As Valentine’s Day draws closer, why do you think “connection” is important especially now in this digital age? Aren’t we all connected even better than before?
I believe that connection with people that we care about is not only one of the most important parts of being human, but also critical for our own sense of purpose, physical, and mental health. Technology has completely changed the entire meaning of connection in our lives. In a sense, our phones have made us able to communicate instantly with anyone anywhere around the planet.
In some ways, this has been positive and created entirely new possibilities for connection. In other ways, our phones have distracted us from being present with each other, and I believe that in our world today it takes a lot of focus to develop and nurture meaningful and close relationships.
With Lovepop, you’re creating jobs and opportunities and learning from the Vietnamese. Are there cultural differences and nuances? Did everyone get along from the beginning? Were there any cultural awakenings?
We’re very passionate about building a world-class company all across the globe. In particular, our Vietnamese organization operates on a 15-year vision to build a community of design and technology professionals in central Vietnam that will become a regional hub for this type of talent and work. Our team in the US has learned as much from our Vietnamese team, as they have from us.
In particular, the Vietnamese team often leads the company in entrepreneurialism, application of process, and team events and building connection. Of course, there have been many challenges for us to overcome, not the least of which are intense language and time zone barriers to collaboration. We’ve invested in our talent from day one, and made incredible strides in our Vietnamese team both in design and manufacturing skills, as well as collaboration models, management approaches, and communication.
You are working with John Wise, your best friend from Webb and now business partner; how valuable was Webb in forming these connections?
John is an incredible human, with an incredibly kind heart, strong sense of purpose, strong will, and he’s also really, really smart. Basically, a Webbie. I met John in August 2005 on my first day at Webb, and have admired his approach to friends, fun, work, and life ever since. Our four years together at Webb of learning together, having fun together, and going through all of challenges of the Webb curriculum together built the foundation upon which we were able to make a full commitment to each other as partners building Lovepop. But it’s not just John and I. Over the years, we’ve had incredible Webbies on the team or helping us out: Colin Spillane, Diana Look, my brother Tophi Rose, Lindy Carelli, Jon Ward, Josh Rothman, Kyle Manis, and likely a few others I’ve neglected to mention.
Our class at Webb was very close, and we still get together a few times a year as a family. I think it’s the most special thing about Webb.
Wombi Rose ’09 and John Wise ’09
From shipbuilding to now building a hugely successful brand of pop-up cards. How do you relate the two?
The very first time John and I saw sliceform kirigami cards, we instantly connected the technique to ship design. When you draw a ship’s line plan, you’re basically taking 3d forms and deconstructing them into a three dimensional grid. That is exactly how we make pop-up cards today. The only difference is that instead of steel or aluminum we use paper, and instead of welding we use glue. In fact, we even use the same design software Rhino 3D that John used to design new patrol boats for the Coast Guard and Navy while working at Metal Shark Boats for Webbies Matt Unger and Chris Allard.
How did it feel to be on Shark Tank with John? How did you feel when you secured the investment?
Shark Tank was a surreal experience, and truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. When our episode aired, 7.5 million Americans immediately knew our story, and felt like they had experienced it with us. We practiced for a month ahead of time, and knew there would only be one take to make sure we got across the essence of the business. When we finally got Kevin O’Leary to commit to funding Lovepop, it was pure excitement and we ran to give him a hug before getting off stage. The next few days were a complete whirlwind, and I can confidently say that Shark Tank was a major factor in the early growth of Lovepop.
You have worked at some of the biggest and most prestigious companies such as McKinsey; why do you think you wanted to keep dreaming even bigger?
I really love bringing people together to tackle something that is both a really big idea, but also has an element of fun and magic. It’s so fun to talk about and plan a big project and then sometime later see that idea come to fruition. It’s never exactly how it was planned out, but I love both the journey and the outcome. I think it’s that love of the journey though that really drives me not to settle, and to keep pushing the envelope.
Listening to how you found Lovepop sounds romantic – you found art and beauty in a faraway place, then shared it with the world. It sounds like a fairy tale. Did Webb lead you to a fairy tale life or did it prepare you for hardship in the world?
When I first encountered Webb it felt like a fairy tale, a dream come true. As I was searching for colleges, my friends and family all encouraged me to find the place I would fall in love with, and when I knew, I would just know the right college for me. To try to spark that “love at first sight” I visited so many schools up and down the East Coast. After visiting Bucknell, Princeton, and Rutgers earlier in the day, I was getting very discouraged. Everything seemed the same. Dorms. Activity clubs. Fancy old buildings. But when I arrived at Webb everything was different. It felt like a community, and the people giving me a tour were students my dad and I happened upon hanging out, not the one highly-trained tour guide student taking 20+ people around campus. I fell in love.
In hindsight, I can’t imagine a better place than Webb for teaching two things I find essential to building a business: (1) an incredible work ethic, and (2) a sense of interconnectedness and how things fit together. These two have served us very well.
The one fairy tale that leaving Webb we took for granted was the incredible sense of community and ease of making friends and building relationships. Those are very special things that Webb offers, and in some ways, makes it too easy in the incredibly formative years in college.
What is the future of Lovepop?
Lovepop continues to invest in building the consumer destination for cards and gifts that pop. Every product we make helps our customers connect with the people they love and care about, and brings our organization one step closer to achieving our mission of creating one billion magical moments. With recent new investment, we plan to focus on our core direct-to-consumer experience online at Lovepop.com, our Lovepop-owned retail stores, our corporate sales partnerships, and continuing to broaden our product offerings both physical and digital for people who love sending cards.
What advice do you have for Webb students on life after graduation?
I’m always learning, and the more I learn, the more hesitant I get to give any sort of advice. I think Webbies have been given such an amazing opportunity to become the person they want to be in life with the tools they learn at Webb, and I encourage everyone to make the most of those. I believe that we all reap what we sow, and giving of yourself to others, and taking the steps toward where you want to be consistently, if sometimes slowly, will always somehow work out in the end.
A look inside Lovepop’s work environment:
Webb Announces New Hire
Please join us in welcoming Kaye Lin to the Webb Communications and Marketing Department!
Kaye Lin – Director of Communications and Marketing
Kaye is a Communications and Digital Marketing professional with a demonstrated history of working in the broadcast media industry.
Kaye joins Webb Institute after working as a Communications Consultant with the World Bank Group (WBG) in both Asia and the US. There, she established partnerships with businesses, media, NGOs and CSOs, wrote stories of sustainable impact and launched a video series on climate business.
Before joining WBG, Kaye was recruited to go to Myanmar to head communications for First Myanmar Investment (FMI) – which was working on international joint ventures to develop the economy of the Southeast Asian nation of 54 million people. Among Kaye’s first projects for FMI was leading communication efforts on an international joint venture between FMI and global advertising giant JCDecaux. The venture brought state of the art, international standard well- lit bus stops to the country’s capital, Yangon, and she wrote speeches for the regional government and FMI’s leadership team related to the launch. Kaye developed the social media strategy at FMI and led several successful digital and social media campaigns for a variety of FMI’s pillars such as their solar energy portfolio, Yoma Micro Power.
Kaye began her career at Voice of America (VOA) in Washington DC working as a multimedia journalist then as a PR specialist- writing, producing, filming and editing stories as well as managing photo and video teams to support digital campaigns.
While at VOA, Kaye created an educational video series to teach American English and culture which broadcast to Asia. In 2018, Maybelline Myanmar named her one of the top three influencers for the edutainment series. She continues to teach English online in her spare time.
Kaye holds a Bachelor of Science in both Journalism and Sociology from Boston University.
Webb is Proud to be “Unranked” By US News and World Report (and most other ranking agencies)
By Lauren Carballo
Director of Admissions and Student Affairs at Webb Institute
In September, U.S. News and World Report released their 38th annual ranking of colleges and universities…and once again, Webb Institute, the college for which I serve as Director of Admissions and Student Affairs, was labeled “unranked” in all but one category. As we’ve always known, a “tuition-free” undergraduate college with one unique degree and a student body size of just over 100 was never meant to fit neatly into any category. If that weren’t enough, per U.S. News’ ranking criteria, it was simply our specialized program and student body size that automatically relegated Webb to this status.
We are not alone. In total, 131 (or 8%) of the 1,631 schools considered by U.S. News are also labeled “unranked” in most categories. They include schools like Olin College of Engineering, Babson College, The Juilliard School, and the Culinary Institute of America–all incredible institutions, all unique, and all unable to participate in the full U.S. News “game” because of the nature of their academic programs.
For some categories, I suppose this makes sense. How would you holistically compare any of the schools above with Williams or Harvard, which more easily fit the mold of a “typical” college? However, for other categories—categories that focus on specific data that make comparing even the most unique schools possible, U.S. News still leaves the 8% off these lists. Princeton, for example, tops their “Colleges Where the Most Alumni Donate” list with a 55% annual alumni giving rate, even though Webb’s annual alumni giving rate is over 70%. Under “Best Value Schools,” Webb is also excluded even though Webb provides full-tuition scholarships to all of its students, has one of the lowest student debt averages, has a 100% job placement rate, and has one of the highest early career salary figures in the country. Other lists like the “Top 100-Lowest Acceptance Rates” or “Most Students Receiving Merit Aid” are others on which Webb should be included, but is not. Similarly, a number of the other 131 unranked colleges would also rank well on many of these lists.
Now U.S. News does have a few categories, or “specialty lists,” in which these unique institutions are ranked, yet their methodology still finds a way to penalize the unique and less well-known. In the Best Undergraduate Engineering Program category, for example, instead of the “17 indicators of academic quality” used in US News’ main rankings, which provides at least one multi-faceted means of comparison, this specialty list uses just one–“academic reputation,” determined not by job placement rate, starting salary, internship program, industry feedback, or student feedback, but instead by the perception of the program by other college administrators—an old fashioned popularity contest. So if you compare Webb’s one degree in Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering to larger engineering programs with more degrees within better-known institutions from the perspective of other college administrators, it’s no surprise that Webb can’t compete.
…And U.S. News is not the only ranking agency that strategically limits unique schools. In 2014, Webb was ranked #2 in Money Magazine’s Best Colleges for Your Money, beating out MIT, Princeton, Stanford, and Harvard. However, shortly after, Money Magazine decided to change their ranking criteria so that only colleges with student populations of over 500 would be included, thus removing Webb from the list entirely. We have not been included in their rankings since.
I believe that Webb’s statistics speak for themselves as with many of the other unranked colleges, and there is no doubt that the unranked deserve a place on many of these lists—often at the top. So why, then, are great schools so often omitted from these lists based on seemingly random limiting factors, e.g., student body size, created by ranking agencies? Good question. Would not having an Ivy at the top of their lists threaten their credibility in the eyes of their readers? Or are they, perhaps, concerned that the colleges that support these rankings by filling out surveys or purchasing advertisements will stop doing so if the historically better-known institutions do not continue to be represented at the tops of the lists? Could a tiny, 100-person college truly pose a risk to these ranking agencies? Whatever the reason, their readership continues to grow, and prospective students continue to be guided by these lists regardless of how incomplete they are.
Up until recently, the release of each ranking list and the designation of “unranked” would immediately trigger disappointment and frustration. Yet, perhaps we at Webb have been looking at this “unranked” category the wrong way. Colleges are always looking for ways to boast how unique they are…and yet, the “unranked” are oftentimes unranked because they truly are unique. For Webb, this uniqueness is what has led us to outperform our peer institutions across many of the ranking categories. So instead of staying hidden within the “unranked” designation that ranking agencies give us this year, we are going to wear the “unranked” badge proudly and redefine what a “best college” is. Webb is proud to be unranked. And for all of the students, parents, and college counselors out there, we encourage you to take the time to look into the rest of the 8%; there may be an exceptional and “unranked” institution hiding in plain sight just for you!