About 10 years ago, my wife was approached by a member of her college circle who had a vision. She saw the need for young ladies, before they reached high school, to be exposed to opportunities in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). By this time, my wife’s friend was a technology professional, well respected in her field with a good, stable job.
The vision was for a non-profit organization that would pair middle school-age girls with professionals in the STEM fields for a mentoring relationship. They dreamed big dreams, benchmarked Teach For America, imagined starting in two communities then expanding the program statewide and eventually across the nation, helping to close the gender gap in the STEM world.
Along with a third professional, the ladies outlined their vision, made a business plan, assembled a team, wrote grants, located mentors, obtained the support of the local school district, and launched their program, known as Discoveries Unlimited.
DU survived for four years, putting it squarely within the 57 percent of all new small businesses that fail within the first five years. I’ve written the postmortem in my mind many times, playing the “what-if” game. But that’s another post for another day, and maybe another blog.
Let’s fast-forward to Thursday.
That’s my IED classroom. The guest, Erika Healy, was a member of Gavit’s very first Freshman Academy. She kept in touch with many of her Gavit teachers during her years at Purdue, and visited the school to meet with classes of current students. This year, for the first time, I had an opportunity to have her visit my classroom. She connected with my students instantly, sharing her stories of growing up in Hammond, going to Gavit, college life, and being hired as an engineer by a firm in Atlanta.
Guest speakers are nothing new. In the age of Skype, they don’t even have to physically come to Gavit to meet with a class. Although, to be honest, there would not have been near the connection with my kids if she had been a face on a screen rather than a person who took time to come to be with us in person. But (Blog Of Shame coming in 3, 2, 1…) that’s the first time I’ve had a former student come to my classroom. Ever.
And here’s the thing. When asked what’s one thing she wishes were different about her high school days, you know what she said? Not better pizza in the cafeteria, or new desks, or air conditioning, or more technology. This stellar student wishes that Gavit graduates from previous years would have come back to the school during her day to share their stories with her classes. And it’s not that she didn’t know what to do and how to do it. Some of my students are just sick of hearing the same adults telling them the same thing.
And some of my students just need a mentor. Whether its somebody who meets with them once a month to expose them to STEM, or as Rudy Ruettiger talks about, that guy who just says “Hey, good job. You can do it. Keep it up.” Of course, Rudy had Fortune to keep him focused on the big picture.
I’m finding it pretty tempting when my students tell me (sarcastically) “preach!”, or tell me “I don’t need another lecture”, to write them off. Fine. You don’t want to know? Don’t know. But maybe there’s something more I can do. Maybe I can find the person who can crack through the hard heads.
Worth a shot, right?
Hatching a plot.