A woman who saw formal education as her ticket in life and who has successfully combined technical talents with creative skills in a stellar career arch spoke to School of Information Studies (iSchool) graduating classes about daring to dream and be different, and to embrace their unique qualities in order to make a positive difference in the world.

Mary Spio ’98, founder and CEO of CEEK VR, keynote speaker for the iSchool’s graduate and undergraduate convocation ceremonies, told of being born in Syracuse when her father was a graduate student at Syracuse University. She then spent many childhood years living in her parents’ home country of Ghana, including a period when the country experienced government upheaval and civil strife. She returned to the U.S. alone at age 16, later enlisted in the Air Force as a wideband/satellite communications technician, and after military service enrolled in and graduated from Syracuse University’s College of Engineering and Computer Science. She continued her education, receiving a master’s degree in electrical engineering and computer science at Georgia Tech, then began working at satellite communications firms. She designed and launched satellites into deep space for NASA and eventually became Head of Satellite Communication Systems for Boeing, where her technology innovations influenced major motion picture distribution through satellite technology.

Tech + Creative

Spio later founded and became CEO of CEEK VR, a developer of premium social virtual and augmented reality experiences that simulate communal experiences. She has been recognized with international accolades such as NBC News 100 History Makers in the Making, Boeing’s Outstanding Achievement in Electrical Engineering Award, IEEE Design, the Yueh-Ying Hu Memorial National Award for Innovation, and the 2017 Arents Award from Syracuse University.

The innovator, who has successfully combined skills in both the technical and creative spheres for career success, said her own experiences were the perfect example of how, “What you’ve learned can take you very far, especially today, in our information age. You are graduating at a time like no other, because we are limited only by our imaginations, beliefs, and the dreams we have. No one ever imagined that I’d send rockets into space; no one could have predicted that I’d get 10 technology patents and create technology used by the likes of Google, Apple, Microsoft and many others,” she relayed. “What used to be the domain of the privileged few is accessible to all of us now, if we are willing to dare greatly.”

‘See The Unseen’

She advised graduates to embrace their own unique capabilities and differences in order to make a positive difference in the world. “Innovation is simply the ability to see unseen connections and apply those to solving problems by having a different perspective. You’ll be able to see something differently than everyone else sees it. It’s your difference that’s going to create something unique in the world, so have the courage to embrace it. I have had the courage to embrace being a different kind of engineer, marrying the creative and the technology, something that was always innate to me,” she related.

Spio spoke lovingly of her late father and his advice that in the final analysis, people are remembered for two things: the problems they created and the problems they solved. She said he told her, ‘This world is full of problems, find some good ones to solve and you’ll be rewarded.’ The advice he gave upon her return to the United States is the same message she offered today’s iSchool graduates, she said: “My hope for you is to always see our world with a sense of wonder and my dream is for you to make magic where you put your focus.”