Electrical engineer Joanie Connell becomes a psychologist to help jumpstart youth careers

Joanie Connell grew up in Cambridge, Mass., attending college at Harvard University — a mere mile away from home. After graduation, she worked as an electrical engineer in Silicon Valley for the next seven years. Realizing her passion was in debugging people, not electronics, she made a career change and got a doctorate in psychology at UC Berkeley.

Before starting graduate school, she spent two years in Europe. She married John Thornburgh and the couple settled in San Francisco. They opted for the warmer temperatures of La Jolla, however, when it was time to start a family.

Connell spent the last 13 years working as an organizational psychologist. She founded, Flexible Work Solutions, Inc., in 2005. There, she works with companies to attract, develop, and retain talent, and works with individuals to improve their success and happiness. She has taught organizational psychology courses at the Rady School of Management at the UCSD, Alliant International University, and National University.

Connell and partner, Debbie Rocco, founded ExecuStart to help parents and youth develop the qualities they need to be resilient, creative, high-integrity leaders. She also sits on the advisory board of the Women Taking the Lead initiative at University of San Diego School of Business; is UCSD Torrey Pines Toastmasters Vice President of Education, sits on the board of Summit Discovery Institute, and is a volunteer at International Rescue Committee, South Bay Community Services, the United Studios of Self Defense, and schools in La Jolla.

What brought you to La Jolla?

Ten years ago, we were expecting the birth of our daughter, Elizabeth, and wanted to leave the hustle and bustle of San Francisco for a more laid back lifestyle. We gave our real estate agent a 1-½ -page list of requirements for a place to live, and we met all of the criteria in La Jolla except for the fourth bedroom. Our house has a view of the ocean, is walking distance to the beach and restaurants, has lovely tropical landscaping, and it was a bargain compared to San Francisco prices (among other things).

What makes this area special to you?

The surfers running barefoot down the street in the mornings, seeing the ocean as I drive into La Jolla on La Jolla Parkway, the community, and knowing so many people in it. (And, that they’ve all seen me at Starbucks or Vons in sweats and a scrunchie and they’re still speaking to me!)

What might you add, subtract or improve in the area?

Hands down, I would improve the schools. The children are our future and they need to be educated (through a well-rounded curriculum) to be able to succeed and take care of all of us in the future. If I could ask for more than that, I’d put the money back into all of the public services (like the library, the Rec Center, fire stations, lifeguards) that make our community a great place to live.

Who or what inspires you?

I draw inspiration from the sun and the ocean.

If you hosted a dinner party for eight, whom (living or deceased) would you invite?

Barack and Michelle Obama, Bill and Melinda Gates, Martin Luther King, Jr., Nelson Mandela, Bono, and Maya Angelou.

What are your five favorite movies of all time?

The Breakfast Club, The Sound of Music, Top Gun (even before I moved to San Diego), Four Weddings and a Funeral, La Cage Aux Folles.

What is your most-prized possession?

My laptop. Both my husband and I were put to the test when there was a fire nearby and all we took were our laptops. Mine has my life on it.

What do you do for fun?

Karate, walk on the beach, travel around the world, read French novels, play the flute, try new recipes, go to rock concerts with my husband, spend time with family and friends.

Describe your greatest accomplishment.

Having a positive impact on other people’s lives — whether it be my daughter, a foster child I mentored, a leader in a company I coached, or a hungry child in Africa my donations helped.

What is your motto or philosophy of life?

Integrity is my No. 1 priority.