Lauren Sweeney has hiked the high Sierras, researched epidemiological trends in remote parts of Ecuador, and played Ultimate Frisbee in Holland. But no matter where she travels, the trail always leads back to the San Francisco Bay Area, where she grew up and now heads of Product Development and Technology Services for Inflect Health.
“This is really home,” says Lauren. “I love the diversity, the mindset of the people, and—as the COVID-19 pandemic illustrated—that we can do things for the greater good, whether we know those who benefit personally or not.”
A childhood of diverse experiences
It’s hardly surprising that exploration has been an undercurrent to Lauren’s life. Both of her parents worked at some of the world’s leading National Laboratories. Mother Jill Hruby is a mechanical engineer who was recently nominated to serve as the U.S. Department of Energy’s undersecretary for Nuclear Security and Administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration. Father Don, an optics specialist, is a tinkerer who has built systems to automatically control everything from rooftop solar panels to the lawn sprinkler system.
Her parents divorced when she was very young, and Lauren and younger sister Kara lived predominantly with their mother for most of their childhood. “We had very strong bonds and did a lot together, including travel, which is probably where my interest in seeing the world comes from,” Lauren says.
Lauren gravitated toward team sports. Soccer was a big part of her identity, and she also enjoyed basketball, softball, and volleyball. She had a knack for leadership and supporting her teammates—skills that would play a major role later in life.
Surrounded by science as a child, Lauren naturally developed a love of math. Yet she never felt compelled to follow in her parents' footsteps. “My parents were very supportive of whatever we wanted to do,” Lauren says. As a result, “I had a strong sense of self.”
That self-confidence would prove valuable when Lauren enrolled at UCLA. She pivoted from engineering to international development—a field she knew nothing about, despite having logged many miles of travel as an 18-year old.
“I just found it incredibly interesting,” she says. “To me, health and education were two cornerstones that everyone should be entitled to in order to build their own lives.”
Lauren left UCLA in 2009 with both a degree and a life partner—David Schneider, an Economics major from Encinitas, Calif. They celebrated their graduation by selling his car to help finance a year of travel, from Southeast Asia to Western Europe. When possible, the couple liked to spend several weeks in one place to immerse themselves in the local culture.
Striking up conversations overseas was easy for the sociable Lauren, particularly during their stay in Amsterdam. Having added Ultimate Frisbee to her sports repertoire in college, she and David scrimmaged with the Dutch Frisbee team. They have returned to Holland several times since to join their friends in tournaments.
Applying skills, old and new
Lauren and David’s next major destination was graduate school at the University of Michigan. There, Lauren chose to study Epidemiology, a field where she would combine a rekindled love of math with health issues in developing countries.
As part of her studies, Lauren spent several months administering a field research project in rural areas of Ecuador, where underserved populations have only limited access to the even the most basic of services. The area’s limited resources constantly challenged Lauren’s creativity, from ensuring adequate support for her research team to using the resulting data to suggest viable solutions for improving residents’ quality of life.
A career comes into focus
Lauren and David returned to the Bay Area, where they were married in 2014 at Yosemite National Park. Deciding it’d soon be time to start a family, they struck on one more adventure—a five-month hike on the 2,600-mile Pacific Crest Trail. Lauren particularly enjoyed meeting and hanging out with other hikers after long days on the trail.
“You hike 30-plus miles in a day and it’s a real feeling of accomplishment,” she says.
In 2016, Lauren would find the perfect professional outlet for her skills and interests at Inflect Health, which seeks to shift the paradigm of healthcare delivery away from traditional approaches.
“We’re looking at innovative ways to develop both essential and new services to fit the needs of a changing world, and improve outcomes for everyone,” Lauren says.
Lauren’s job adds a new dimension to her feeling truly “at home” now. The couple recently bought a house in Oakland that provides plenty of space for their respective home offices, their 21-month-old daughter Dani Hruby Schneider, and another daughter due in July. Family and friends are close by, while technology helps Lauren stay in touch with sister Kara, who works as a nurse in Gunnison, Colo. and co-owns a llama farm with her husband.
Between family and work, Lauren finds time for painting and pottery, and she still plays sports and Ultimate Frisbee.
“What I’ve always wanted form life is a sense of fulfillment,” she says, “a feeling that you’re doing your best but also making a difference for others. But most important friends and family—something that’s really been reinforced during the pandemic. My circle has grown larger, of course, but being with them is still what makes me the happiest.”