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THE SALSIFY SMARTER MERCHANDISING BLOG

Our First Try at Improving STEM Education in Boston

Posted by Evelyn Hartz on 9:12 AM on October 7, 2016

STEM_girl_learning.jpgIt’s STEM week in Boston! That means there are hands-on learning experiences taking place in middle schools through the city to get students more excited and comfortable doing the critical thinking and collaboration that applied science, technology, engineering and math requires. At Salsify, we’re extremely committed to ensuring the next generation of tech leadership is diverse. But the reality is we’re in an industry where women are on track to fill only 3 percent of the projected 1.4 million jobs opening in computer science by 2020.

It’s an ongoing problem that, frankly, we were sick of talking about and wanted to do something about. After much discussion with one another, we tried something we hoped would encourage more girls to choose computer science as a career.

This summer we hosted a group of 40 middle school female students at our offices as a first step to exploring what we could do to contribute to nurturing the next generation of STEM workers in Boston. Members of our engineering, sales and marketing team guided the girls to design, build and speak about initial prototypes of their own problem-solving software.

Andrea Roda, the STEM-certified teacher who accompanied our first field trip of students, shared her feedback on the experience: “My students were glowing and bursting with excitement when we got back to school on Monday -- so much so that many teachers came to ask me about what we had done. You have surely inspired these girls to explore more technology courses and to see themselves possibly working in technology fields. Each person who interacted with my students, listened to their ideas with enthusiasm and responded to each girl as a real part of the team. That made the girls feel valued and so capable of completing each task.”

The students that attended our first STEM field trip wrote a couple sentences about their learning experience at Salsify and then sent us this Wordle to summarize all the sentences.
The students that attended our first STEM field trip wrote a couple sentences about their learning experience at Salsify and then sent us this Wordle to summarize all the sentences.

It’s just the beginning
We learned a lot from this first program and we’re just getting started! All our summer event volunteers were Salsify employees who are interested in working with kids and inspiring an interest in STEM and entrepreneurship.

“For us as a company today, the effort we’re putting into STEM won’t pay off in the short term (although we’re finding it quite a great way to build on our cross-team collaboration), working with middle-school students isn’t going to help us hire the next sales rep, engineer, marketer or product manager. But for the next group that spins off a company, for the company that’s formed 7 years down the road, for the Boston ecosystem as a whole, encouraging curiosity, supporting exploration and holding each other up can only make us better - and as small as this effort may be - it has to help just a little…” says Michelle Burtchell-Spector, VP of Marketing at Salsify. “We’re not going to solve this on our own - this initiative alone will not change all that needs to change. But we’re trying - and we want to try more. We want to move the conversation to action.”

Since this is a community issue, we wanted to share what other Salsify employees had to say about the issue from their experience:

Where are the opportunities to grow STEM education in our community today?
"It’s undeniable that STEM skills are critical in today’s workplace, and are required for many positions in startups and tech companies. However, many communities and people are still being left behind when it comes to STEM education. Expanding our efforts to make STEM fields  more inclusive is paramount – increasing access to education and pathways to technical careers is required if Boston is to stay at the forefront of the tech world. I volunteer for school-to-workforce program  Resilient Coders. Groups like that are ensuring that more people are gaining those skills and will have better high tech career options. A diverse technical workforce will keep Boston competitive for years to come." 
                                                      - Devers Talmage, Engineering, Salsify
"Right now there’s a problem in our industry.  There is a serious lack of diversity. To those of you that don’t fit the current profile of a young, white, male: we are missing your perspective.  We are breaking down the walls and we need your voice, your vision and ideas.  We are seeing this shift more and more each year.  It’s an incredibly exciting time to join this evolving industry. “Tech” is a wide ranging thing.  You can build web interfaces, you can build car dashboard interfaces, smart watches, smart backpacks, systems to combat cancer, clean water sources, games, toys, robots...  Your options are endless.  Tech offers an amazing flexibility for the direction of your career and we need your unique perspective to help shape where this industry takes us."
                                      - Tacita Morway, Senior Engineering Manager, Salsify
"There are thousands of articles, posts, and stats on the importance of diversity in tech (and really, in every workplace). Having the conversation is important. Calling each other out on unintentional biases is critical. But what’s so frustrating - is that even with all of the talk - and with the open discussions in the workplace - the numbers are barely improving. When you look under the covers (and actually spend the time seeking out diverse candidates) - the diversity is still too damn hard to find. I won’t pretend to know all of the reasons, but stemming from my own experiences and from observing and talking with others, it seems there are simple things we all can do to encourage diversity, to make the workplace more inclusive - and to ultimately, make each and every one of us better at what we do.  And really, to encourage the next gen workforce to think and act differently."  
                                    - Michelle Burtchell-Spector, VP of Marketing at Salsify
"Tech is one of those things that, for many people, it's hard to figure out how to even get a foot in the door.  Groups and individuals at companies who are willing to coach, mentor and give people those sorts of opportunities are so important in nurturing a more inclusive Boston tech community. For me, being involved with Resilient Coders and now looking into ways Salsify can expose the next generation to opportunities and tools to work in the tech field is so important.  Boston has always been a STEM leader, but ensuring that growth is inclusive is so important."
                                                 - Rovaira Dasig, Product Management, Salsify
What’s your advice to the next generation of  students?
"I worked in schools and districts in and around Boston for twelve years before coming to Salsify - a major career change. I want students today to learn and be inspired by the fact that STEM is in everything! So my first piece of advice: find your passion, and then find the STEM in it. Everyone can be great at STEM - advocate for yourself and what you need to be good at it. Second, being a force in STEM fields does not mean you should leave other subjects behind. One of the things that has helped me the most in transitioning into this new career is being confident in my abilities as a critical reader, my ability to communicate effectively via writing, as well as skills I learned by participating in athletics and the arts (e.g. failing in the beginning and getting better through practice and feedback). All of these are important components of a STEM education."
                                                 - Rana Kannan, Business Development, Salsify
"As you move through the world each day you’ll see things that are broken or just not as great as they could be.  Anything from the seriously tedious process of brushing your teeth, to the clunkiness of the ticket reader on the bus, to finding better ways to enable everyone to vote, to seeing people in need of homes and food.  When you move through the day, let your experiences be your inspiration.  Doesn’t matter how small a thought is. Look at that idea, think about it, explore it.  Daydream about potential solutions to the problem you’ve spotted.  Or work backwards, look at a solution and wonder what someone was trying to solve with it. STEM arms you with the tools to make those ideas a reality."  
                                      - Tacita Morway, Senior Engineering Manager, Salsify

We’re going to continue inviting groups of students throughout Boston to our offices to participate in critical thinking design projects firsthand.

Do you want to try this with us? Share your own success stories and ideas on this issue @Salsify.  We’d love to hear how others in Boston’s tech space are thinking about solving this problem. Interested school groups can contact Allison Churilla.


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