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Between Chai Lattes in Washington, DC

 

I’ve just left an exciting meeting with Oracle, and am now sending emails to make more appointments, before heading home to join the Techbridge headquarters’ team via Skype. People always ask where my office is, and whether there is a place convenient to it, to meet. Little do they know that I’m a vagabond and that the nearest Starbucks is my office these days. (Free Wi-Fi is makes all the difference. The Chai Lattes are good, too.)

 

The meetings I have been holding during my first 90 days as the Washington, DC Executive Director for Techbridge are with corporations, school leaders, non-profits, funders, and old friends. These folks help me understand the STEM education landscape in DC. This in turn, helps me plan the ambitious launch of Techbridge in DC, this fall. To prepare for our fall launch, I need to finalize eight school partnerships, secure an office space, build an advisory council, hire staff, and order supplies. But those tasks are not the difficult part. DC’s girls are facing some of the toughest sets of obstacles in the region, and they are in need of the kind of ecosystem-building that is integral to Techbridge’s approach. 

 

 What I wondered about most was whether people were invested here. Why would they be interested in yet another STEM-focused after-school program?  So many nonprofits are focused on STEM programming in DC. Why Techbridge? Why now?  After all of the meetings, here is what I found out:

 

The public schools are on board: Leaders at DC Public Schools and at several prominent public charter schools have recommended Techbridge to their Principals, but central office enthusiasm has been overshadowed by the excitement of the school leaders I’ve met. “I’ve waited so long for a program like this to come along!” said Aqueelha James, Principal of Burroughs Education Campus. Principal James could almost recite Techbridge’s mission, without even being introduced to it. She, like so many other educators, sees the potential power of Techbridge’s model immediately. Education leaders anticipate our ability to awaken and inspire elementary through high school-aged girls, who have opted out of science and math, through our hands-on activities and experiences. They see that girls, in particular, need programs to empower their self-perceptions, teamwork skills, and grit. They also see Techbridge programs are a way to augment school day teaching through more hands-on activities, than sometimes they can offer during the day.  The combination of elements Techbridge provides are unmatched in other DC STEM programs. Principals want that for their girls.

 

 The DC leadership is on board: "Oh Meeta it’s so good to see you again and I’m so glad you are where you are!" said Jennie Niles, the newly appointed DC Deputy Mayor for Education. “You know I’ve just gotten started, but I’m very excited about bringing a STEM focus to DC’s students. I was once a science teacher you know? This
summer we hope to do a coding event. We should talk later about how Techbridge can be involved.” Then she was whisked away to speak at a local charter school’s groundbreaking ceremony. The next time I saw Jennie, she was delivering opening remarks at the launch of the new DC STEM Network, a collaboration between the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) and the Carnegie Institute for Science. The event brought together STEM-connected individuals to develop the District’s STEM strategy. I’ll be serving on the group focusing on developing best practice standards for engaging volunteers and mentors to support STEM-focused students. It’s so exciting to be on the ground floor of such an effort, with such committed people.

 

 Corporations and organizational leaders are on board: Thus far, I’ve met with leadership at Chevron, Lockheed Martin, TATA Consulting Services, Endgame, Ridgwells Catering, Million Women Mentors, Change the Equation, National Academies of Science, and the National Institutes of Health, to name a few. When meeting with the leaders of these institutions, I am abundantly aware that Techbridge is a new game in town, with many other nonprofits claiming the STEM space. I have also come to understand that the need for high quality programs in the STEM arena, like ours, is critical to local corporations’ long-term success. They need a robust workforce and they don’t see a viable pipeline of available workers. This fact is affirmed at every meeting I attend. In a recent Tweet, Balaji Ganapathy of TATA Consulting Services said, "We owe it to our youth to effectively mentor, guide and shape them into tomorrow's leaders, today!" I leave each meeting with yet another contact to talk to, and potentially, another supporter to add to my growing DC network.  For example, this week, I was invited to present at the Northeastern Maryland Technology Council’s STEM Summit in early May on “Women in STEM: Progress and Challenges in Closing the Gender Gap” – I look forward to leaving that session with even more ideas and business cards to add to the growing mountain.

 

 All this support and momentum keeps me excited about Techbridge’s future in DC, and eager to meet the girls we will eventually serve. I invite you to watch our progress. Please stay tuned for updates on our final school partners, new hires, permanent address, and advisory council members. These and other updates will be available on the new DC-focused webpage on the Techbridge website, to be released later this spring.

 

 Now I’m off to the next Starbucks. 



 

 

 

 

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