Papaya Tutor: Empowering the Next Generation of STEM Students with Sandra LaPlante

Episode #48
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Coming into the US already presents its own cultural and language problems. Coming from South America can make things a bit more challenging due to stereotypes and personal insecurity. However, being a latina woman from Peru in the US technology industry and starting her own company is a whole different matter. Today’s guest did just that.

Sandra LaPlante’s early goal of working as a consultant led her to pursue a degree in industrial engineering at the University of Central Florida. Struggling to pass her programming class and not being able to afford a private tutor in the US, she had to “go back to her roots” and find help in Peru, where tutoring was more affordable. That’s when she had the idea to start her current business, Papaya Tutor.

Papaya Tutor is an online tutoring service nurtured by the meaning of their very name “papaya”, which in Peru means “piece of cake; easy”. Sandra elaborates on the early days of the company, why she decided to go for her inner calling even while she was happy with her life, and how she got started by interviewing people in a professor's office in Peru. As an immigrant woman in tech, she also mentioned the self-doubts and challenges she faced when starting her business―and what latinos can do to start their own.

Sandra LaPlante is a Latina engineer in tech, an immigrant advocating for minorities, and an idealist. She believes everyone’s mission is to make a difference in their own way. Sandra immigrated to the USA in search of the American dream when she was 17 years old. She told her parents she could make it on her own in America, but not in a third-world country like Peru. In Peru, it is almost impossible to work and go to school at the same time.

After many jobs, she finished her bachelors degree in Industrial Engineering & Management Systems at the University of Central Florida. Even before graduating, she got an offer by the largest technology firm in the world, Accenture. Her job relocated her to California where she started doing consulting for tech companies all over Silicon Valley. It is then when she noticed the lack of diversity in tech―and overall STEM.

So she went back to an old crazy idea while studying the most difficult subjects in Engineering School: an Uber type of platform for students who needed help right away. The catch would be that the tutors would be from LATAM, so that it can be affordable while breaking stereotypes about minorities in STEM. The mission is to open doors to non-traditional students like her, so STEM can be more diverse―starting at the educational level.

What You’ll Learn in This Episode:

  • How Almost Failing Her Programming Class Led Her to the Idea of Papaya Tutor
  • The One Thing That Separates People from Smart People
  • How Her Previous Work Experience Helped Her Start Her Own Business
  • The #1 Requirement for Tutoring at Papaya Tutor―And Why This Differentiates Them
  • How Sandra Pivoted Between Business Models
  • The Inner Calling that Led Her to Start the Business
  • Why You Should Explore What You’ve Always Wanted to Do Before It’s Too Late
  • How You Can Get Started With Your Business Idea
  • Why She Switched from Mechanical to Industrial Engineering
  • The Challenges She Faced Being an Immigrant Woman in the US Tech Industry
  • How Being an Immigrant Can Give You a Competitive Advantage
  • Why You Should Always Look at the Positive Sides of Things
  • How You Can Find Yourself Within the Vast World of STEM
  • How We Can Engineer Our Future―And Why Engineers are the Perfect Fit for This

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