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Mom of 9 crushes coursework, throws herself into StartUP challenge
Camille Plummer with Gustavo Grande, director of Venture Ready Programs at StartUP FIU, who served as a mentor during the recent GSK Innovation Challenge

Mom of 9 crushes coursework, throws herself into StartUP challenge

Camille Plummer does it all, thanks to family support and a drive to excel

May 26, 2023 at 10:30am

The long-touted ideal of “work-life balance” can sometimes ring hollow. For many of us, the drive to give our all at work often competes with our desire to actively participate in family life, making it tough to find harmony between the two.

For biochemistry major Camille Plummer, dividing her time between academic pursuits and raising nine children between the ages of 5 and 21 has nothing to do with achieving bliss; it is simply a way of life.

“The challenges in life are there to teach us to be better, stronger and point us in the right direction,” says Plummer. “The mantra which internally motivates me comes from Romans 8:28 in the New Testament which says ‘all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.’”

Perhaps unsurprisingly then, Plummer fully embraced another challenge, this one created out of a partnership between the innovation hub known as StartUP FIU and a global pharmaceutical giant. The semester-long GSK Innovation Challenge tasked undergraduate FIU students from a variety of majors to delve into the causes of health disparities in Hispanic and African American communities.

Rising senior Plummer was drawn to participating because of her familiarity with the pharmaceutical company’s inhaler, a product that helps her live with asthma.

“The moment I heard StartUP FIU was hosting the GSK Innovation Challenge, I knew I had to be a part of it,” she says. “Since GSK’s products have been essential in keeping me healthy, it is a privilege to be able to work with them to better understand and, hopefully, help dismantle health disparities in traditionally underserved communities.”

The students broke up into teams that leveraged one another’s strengths and educational backgrounds. Joining Plummer were Madeline Chamorro, a chemistry major, and Andres Barcelo, who studies architecture.

First order of business: conduct customer discovery, an immersive technique that allows them to learn more about their users through a series of in-depth interviews. By better understanding people’s goals, ways of life and cultural norms, students could gain a grasp of the problem at hand – in this case, lack of vaccination among minority populations for the painful shingles virus - and develop potential solutions, such as improving education and awareness among the target groups or increasing access through various means.

“Here at StartUP FIU, we teach students to think through problems with an innovative lens,” says Emily Gresham, assistant vice president for research, innovation and economic development and co-founder of StartUP FIU. “That involves asking the tough questions, truly understanding your customer and designing solutions that are in line with their wants and needs.”

Teams and individual students benefitted from the input and guidance of mentors, some of whom are employees of GSK and others who work at FIU. Plummer especially valued the support provided by Robert Hacker, StartUP FIU director.

Among the key lessons Plummer took away from the experience: the importance of cultivating a flexible mind, embracing failure as a way to improve the next time and recognizing that not everything has to be perfect in order to succeed.

Plummer moved to the United States from her native Jamaica with her husband and children more than a decade ago. At the time, she held a degree from her home country to work as a diagnostic radiographer. In the United States, however, regulations required that she complete a new degree here to sit for the required licensure exam and continue her career in Florida.

Today, she is well on her way and credits the collaboration of her husband. “He is the keystone that holds everything together,” she says before bursting into a laugh: “The only thing he doesn’t do is breastfeed our children!”

Her next goal: get into medical school.

Plummer says she especially wants to show her four daughters that education is the key to a fulfilling life and that nothing should stop them from acheiving their goals.

“I want them to understand that they don’t have to choose between being career-women or being mothers, to know that it is possible to earn that diploma no matter what else is going on in their lives,” she says. “They have the power to make their dreams come true and I want to be a living example of that.”

Camille Plummer, second from left, with husband Jonathan, foreground, and their nine children