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In the pause: Cornell Tech campus opens on New York City’s Roosevelt Island

Yesterday’s event at Cornell Tech on Roosevelt Island filled me with inspiration and possibility. It was quite a testament to what can be achieved through private – public partnerships with tech CEOs from IBM, Qualcomm, Verizon, and startups, investors, journalists, Governor Cuomo, Mayor de Blasio, Mike Bloomberg, and the President of Cornell all in attendance.

The spaces, indoors and out, are incredibly thoughtful and stunning. Best of all, it’s been built as an inviting setting for the public. Bring your laptop, book, or sketch pad, grab a coffee at the cafe, and take it all in with plenty of wi-fi and collaborative space. This is a place of community, and the hope is that companies and projects started by students and incubator sponsors (yes, your company can get space here!) will diversify and grow the NYC economy. Already, Cornell Tech has spun out 38 companies, 94% of which are based in NYC.

Graduate and doctoral studies as well as Executive Education courses comprise the student body here and it will also be a stage for events at the cross-section of tech, business, art, and social impact.

Grab the F train, bus, ferry, or tram, and go check it out!

In the pause: Meet the 826NYC teaching artist cohort bringing creative writing to NYC public schools

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826NYC’s first cohort of Teaching Artists

I’m so excited to be a part of this program!

Press release: 826NYC is proud to announce its first-ever cohort of Teaching Artists! These dynamic and experienced writers and educators will be running our in-schools and partnership residencies across New York City. Each residency ranges from 4-8 sessions in length and culminates in an anthology of student work, which is professionally designed and printed for distribution.

The cohort includes writers and artists from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, the Watermill Center, the Minnesota Prison Writers Workshop, and more.

Learn more about Christa Avampato, Maryann Aita, Cameron Crawford, Joss Lake, Jason Leahey, Fatima Farheen Mirza, Krystal Reddick, and Helena Smith. Learn more about them here!

In the pause: The secret equation to your success

I’ve been doing a lot of research on career planning as I craft the materials for ACanofCoke.com, my program to provide college- and career-readiness guidance to high school and college students who need additional support. I came across Mike Rowe’s video entitled “Don’t follow your passion. Do this instead.” I don’t agree with his entire outlook though I think his point has value. I think passion is an important part of building a life and career that brings us happiness and fulfillment. But passion isn’t enough; it’s only one part of a more complex equation:

Passion + ability + opportunity = a career (and life) worth having

Identify what you love to do. Evaluate whether or not that’s where your talent lies, or where it could lie with practice and a strong work ethic. Determine the size of the opportunity that could utilize your passion and talent, or develop a plan that creates that opportunity if it doesn’t exist.

Building each piece of the left side of that equation isn’t easy, though it’s the only way to turn that right side from a dream into a reality.

In the pause: You need to get comfortable with rejection

Exactly two months ago, I decided to try to make ACanofCoke.com, my online college- and career-readiness service, a reality. This week I scheduled meetings with 3 NYC public high school principals to talk about doing a pilot with their students this summer and fall. It took emailing 398 principals to get this response. Hey if it’s a numbers game, then I’m ready to play.

The mission of this idea matters so much to me that I’m not bothered by the rejection. I could look at this as ~1% of the schools I emailed are interested or I could see it as ~99% aren’t. I’m going with the former.

Rejection is a part of business, art, and life. We will be rejected far more often than we are accepted – at least that’s been my experience and the experience of just about everyone I know. It’s not the amount of failure we endure, but the persistence and passion that matter most. As Babe Ruth once said, “It’s tough to beat someone who never gives up.” Keep going.

In the pause: The power of thinking small

One of the main tenants of business and new product development is to develop the least expensive, least time intensive version of your product to test with exactly the people you hope to become your customers. You want to put in just enough money and effort so that the idea of what you’re trying to do is clear and the experience is positive. And you want to keep from putting in too much money and effort on an idea that just doesn’t work. It’s all about using resources wisely and conserving as much as you can while also still giving the idea a fighting chance to show its value. It’s a tricky balancing act, but it has to be done.

With A Can of Coke, my online platform to provide college- and career-readiness counseling for high school students, I can use an easy, light-weight combination of Google Calendar and Google Hangout with a small handful of students to help them in the evening and weekend hours for a couple of months. This way I can see if the idea works and what needs to be improved without incurring a lot of cost.

Fast, simple, small. It’s how all great ideas start.

In the pause: Use what you have

Monday night I met with the team over at Notion Theory, a fantastic design shop that specializes in being a CTO for-hire (among many other amazing specialties!) I spoke to them about my virtual guidance counseling idea. They could have quoted me an outrageous amount of money to build a proof-of-concept. Instead, they said it could be done for $0 and I could do it myself in a few hours with free online tools. Sure, it will be a little manual but for MVP, it can be hacked together. What I really need to focus on is finding a couple of schools with a small amount of students who are willing to let me test the idea on them. I think it’s pretty amazing for a design shop to tell me that right now I don’t need to pay them a cent. The time for a slick seamless interface will come, but right now I just need to find people who want my help. Given how much need there is, I can get started right away with what I’ve got.

In the pause: Holding myself accountable

I’m a voracious list maker, mostly because it helps me to remain accountable for moving my ideas forward. Since the weekend, I’ve been making a list of things I need to do to test out my new business ideas for on-demand and virtual guidance counseling for students. So far, I have a few to-dos on the books and they are:

  • Writing to my high school guidance counselor who inspired this idea to give him a long overdue thank you and to let him know his efforts were not in vain. I actually made it to adulthood in mostly one piece and am now giving back.
  • Making a list of people I’d like to contact to do research on the roles of guidance counselors and school administrators so I can understand their pain points and how this company can be of greatest use to the kids in their schools and to their staff.
  • Developing a light-weight version of a pitch deck that lays out the purpose, the impact, the methods to achieve that purpose, and my many questions.
  • Setting up time to meet with a couple of friends who are going to give me advice on the aforementioned pitch deck.
  • Setting up time to meet with a technology development shop that I love and want to work with.
  • Making a list of influential people who I want to contact about the idea to ask for their help, guidance,  and ideas.
  • Set up a meeting with a designer who I hope will help me with branding, a logo, etc. She reached out to me through Instagram and I love her work!
  • Reading, reading, reading. Researching, researching, researching. Learning, learning, learning.

I will say that I’m loving every moment of this. I’m loving it so much in fact that it doesn’t even seem like work. And that, my friends, is the point. We should find something that we love to do so much that the time flies and it makes us feel alive and free.

In the pause: All children deserve to rise

I’m so tired of the acceptance that zip code is destiny. My entire life is a rejection of that belief, and I will keep rejecting it until I’m out of breath and out of strength. Somewhere along the way, our society decided that a child born into difficulty on the south side of Chicago won’t have the same chance to rise to their potential as a child born with every privilege on the south side of Central Park. Is the life of that child in Chicago any less valuable that the life of that child in New York? I don’t think so. I know you don’t think so either. So let’s change that, together. Let’s stack the odds in favor of all kids everywhere.

There are too many kids who are cold, and tired, and hungry, and frustrated. There are too many kids who don’t see a way up and out of their circumstances because no one they know ever got up or out. Imagine what our world would be like if every child alive right now got everything they needed to grow up healthy, educated, kind, and confident. That’s the image I hold in my mind as I think about ways to offer virtual and on-demand guidance counseling to kids across the country, and eventually across the globe. It’s a big vision, a big dream, and our kids deserve nothing less. They have to know that somewhere out in the world, there is an adult who believes in them, who is holding a light for them so that they can find their way forward even in the darkest of times. To that child, that one light can make all the difference. And that’s worth fighting for.

In the pause: My new business idea and passion project to help kids make their way in the world

F*ck it. I’m going for it. I’ve been kicking around the idea for a new business I’d like to start, and after several months of gnashing my teeth and wringing my hands, I decided I’m just going to do it. As I’ve mentioned several times, I was lucky to have an amazing guidance counselor, Jim Wherry, when I was in high school. I’ve learned over the last few months that I was luckier than I thought. In some schools, the ratio of guidance counselors to students is 1:500. And though we spend thousands of dollars every year per student on educating them, we spend the equivalent of a can of Coke per student on guidance counselors. A can of Coke. Bill Symonds, Director of the Global Pathways Institute, calls this “the black hole in the American education system.” I can’t get that idea out of my mind so I decided to embrace it and do something about it.

My therapist, Brian, once said to me that the best way for me to make my past mean something is to pay it forward. I think about how hard I worked and how much I struggled as a student and as a young adult. I think about the free lunch program that I was simultaneously grateful for and embarrassed by. I worked, and worked, and worked so that my life as an adult could be more secure than my life as a child. I think about the fact that despite my many hardships, there are far too many kids today who are in the same boat or even worse off. The boy I met on the streets of D.C. a few nights ago is a prime example of the people who need me to make this business a reality. Every student deserves to have a Jim Wherry. And I’m going to find a way to make that possible while also creating a company that creates jobs and has the kindest, bravest, most passionate, and most respectful culture imaginable because our work is something we should love to do. Our kids all across this country need us to stand up for them and support them as they make their way in a world that is becoming an increasingly difficult place. This is my act of resistance.

That’s my side hustle for now that I hope becomes a full-time venture over time. I’ll still need to work full-time in another job I enjoy (and let’s face it, the world is now full of opportunities for me to do good work) so that I don’t have to worry about money while I build this new idea. And that’s A-OK with me because I want to do what’s right for our kids without making choices based on my own personal finances.

So here we go back into the world of entrepreneurship, and this time a little older, hopefully a little wiser, and just as determined to use my business skills to build a passion project that builds a better world.

If you’d like to offer advice, help, ideas, or encouragement, I’ll take them.

In the pause: Pursuing an interest in historic preservation

In my early 20s while I was working in theater management, I had the great privilege to travel all over the U.S. and Canada with different tours. I was always amazed by the beauty, history, and culture of the restored spaces where we played, and those experiences began my interest in historic preservation. Now whenever I travel to a new city (or even around cities I know well), you can find me looking up and building facades and examining the internal architecture that makes buildings so unique. It’s one of the things I love so much about New York City; the variation in architecture there is endless!

I decided to get a little bit more serious about this interest and enrolled in an online class called The Architectural Imagination. It’s being offered on the edX platform by four professors of architecture at Harvard and it’s free. If architecture and historic preservation is something you’re interested in, too, sign up and we can go through it together!

More info on the class here: https://www.edx.org/course/architectural-imagination-harvardx-gsd1x#!

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