About Talia Whyte

Posts by Talia Whyte:

Why The STEM Economy Is Gaining STEAM

steamSTEM has a branding problem.

A couple of weeks ago I had my regular meeting with Cynthia and Keyshia, two students I am mentoring. In our latest gathering, I asked them if they had any thoughts on the role of the arts in STEM fields.  Both of them were confused at first and thought I was joking.  They didn’t realize that the arts played an important role in these traditionally technical fields.

I explained to them the roles a web designer and a web developer play in building a website.  I think a recent Ask GWA post really did a good job explaining this:

…To put it into a different context, let’s think of a car.  Web designers are in charge of how the car looks and feels, such as the color and design inside and outside, the shape and comfort of the car seats, the texture and use of the steering wheel and even the smell of the car.  Web developers deal with how the car functions, like making sure the engine works in relation to the steering wheel, brakes and the gas tank, fixing a bad muffler and even making sure the radio works…

The same can be said about the iPhone.  One of the reasons it is such a popular phone is not only because of its superior functionality, but also for its beautiful design.

I’m glad STEAM industries are getting more attention, especially in U.S. schools.  Below I found these two videos that talk about this growing movement.

Renowned graphic designer John Maeda discusses the role of the arts in technical industries.

Brent Bushnell and Eric Gradman, co-founders of the Two Bit Circus, talk about the STEAM Carnival.

Dilemmas in Media Development

News imageAs many of you know, I have been working on starting a news startup with a group of Jamaican journalists for the last two years.  I am a big supporter of media development.  I feel that I am lucky to live in a country where press freedom and democracy are upheld, and when I can, I try to provide as much support and resources to my counterparts in countries with limited reporting tools.

One of the members of this group, Jared Jameson, I first met on one of my first UN-funded media development projects I worked on in Nigeria over ten years ago.  Jared is a veteran photojournalist who has done fantastic work throughout the Caribbean and West Africa.  Four years ago he asked me to help him start an online news site focused on the northeastern part of Jamaica, mainly in the parish of Portland.  Most of the writers and photographers are from the area and the United States.  Portland is a major agricultural producer of coffee, mangoes, bananas and the national fruit, ackee.

You would think it would be easy to start a news website around economic development, but there is a reason it has taken two year to get this off the ground.  Some of our bumps in the road may be familiar to other media development practitioners, especially around money.

Investments – Getting investors continues to be a big barrier.  It is hard to get financial support for a media project like this because investors want to see how the product will work out first.  That’s a Catch 22!

Money for issues, not for growing independent journalism – Unfortunately, the little money that is available for media development projects is not used to develop long term, sustainable journalism, but rather for short term issue projects.

Write for pay – Of course writers should be paid for their work, but most of the time news startups in developing countries, money for content is not immediately available at the beginning.

Training & Resources – Even if there is some money to keep the news operations afloat for a while, who is going to be in charge of website maintenance? Who fixes the website when it goes down?  Who is trained to do this. In most small news startups of this nature, it might be one person doing everything.  It can be expensive and time consuming to hire and train more people.

Luckily for us, we are now in negotiation for a sponsorship right now that will help us get going by the end of 2015.  More to come on this soon!

My Boston Cycling Craze

Boston's Cycling Craze Book CoverAs a disclaimer, sometimes I get free books at my office to review.  I don’t read most of them, and when I do, I only write about the ones that appeal to me here.  The latest book to come across my desk is one by Boston historian Lorenz J. Finison. Boston’s Cycling Craze, 1880 – 1900: A Story of Race, Sports & Society tells the story of the rising popularity of bicycles one hundred years ago and the social politics that arose out of it.

In the late 1800s, everyone was cycling all over the city.  Most communities had their own cycling clubs.  However, African-Americans were barred from joining these clubs and had to form their own black clubs.  Women were chastised for not wearing long dress while riding bikes and called unladylike (because it makes so much sense to wear long dresses while cycling…).

I really enjoyed reading the book.  I’m a recreational cyclist myself.  I mostly bike during the weekends along the Southwest Corridor and the Charles River Bike Path.  Like the cyclists featured in the book, I feel a certain level of freedom with my cycling.  Because I don’t own a car, I have to either walk or take the T to get around the city.  Having a bike allows me to travel when I want to without having to wait for the next bus or train, I can get to where I need to be for free, and most importantly, I don’t create a carbon footprint.

I used to cycle a lot more when I was a kid and only recently took up cycling again in the last four years to help recover from an injury and have a complementary activity for running and yoga.  Cycling is such a great way to be active for a long time and not injure your knees while keeping in shape.  The only downside here is that sometimes I cycle so much, I lose too much weight!

Also, I get to notice a lot of things about today’s social politics from just peddling around the city for a couple hours.  I see an equal number of male and female cyclists on the roads, but a lot of times its the men who wear the fancy, expensive bike wear to live out their inner Lance Armstrong. Is this ungentlemanlike?

I am more casual, wearing a helmet, a t-shirt and jeans or sometimes running capris if I am cycling long distances.  A far cry from the days of bloomers.

I don’t see a lot of cyclists of color, however, I think that is starting to change.  Over the summer, I went on a couple of trips with a group of my black, Latino and Asian friends along the entire Charles River Bike Path.  We also did the annual Hub on Wheels last September to celebrate and promote cycling in Boston.  It was great to see people from all different backgrounds come together – men, women, black, white, young and old.

It shows how much our society has changed over the last one hundred years, and it would be interesting to see what happens in the next century!

Highlights From The 2014 ATE PI Conference

STEM careers

Last week I was invited to present web design/development instructional prototypes at this year’s ATE PI, an annual conference held in Washington DC that looks at ways to improve STEM education and workforce development in community colleges nationwide.  My presentation was sponsored by the National Science Foundation.

I presented two websites I created from scratch, or hand-coded – Global Exchange Reality Tours and Women Talking to educators and policymakers from around the country.  The point of the presentation was to showcase new ways to teach web design and development skills in an innovative classroom setting that will attract more students.  I received a lot of great feedback on the prototypes.

Web development is one of the fastest growing fields today.  However, there are not enough students pursuing these ICT careers. I have discussed many times here the need to address the fact that the United States beginning to lag behind in the global economy because of the lack of American STEM workers.

In my home state of Massachusetts, its Department of Education released a new report yesterday, Degrees of Urgency, that also warns that the Commonwealth is not graduating enough students in these skilled fields to fulfill growing demands in the economy.

Community colleges are best suited to train future leaders in these fields because they are already set up to provide vocational training.  Also, community colleges are more affordable and accessible to more people than four-year colleges.  In addition, these schools attract a more diverse student body, from young people fresh out of high school, to veterans returning to civilian life, to single parents going back to school, to working professionals looking to enhance their skills.  I went to my local community college last year to take some programming skills.

I also had a chance to talk with other STEM employers at the conference about their hiring frustrations. Terry Iverson, president and CEO of the machinery distributor Iverson and Company, dispelled the common belief that there are no more manufacturing jobs in America.  In fact, he said there are many U.S. based jobs, but many people don’t want them because of social stigma.

Chandra Brown, deputy assistant secretary for manufacturing at the U.S. Department of Commerce, spoke to the conference about her concern about the lack of women and minorities in these fields.  She noted that workforce diversity improves dividends for many STEM employers.

“We need to tap into a resource we haven’t tapped into yet,” she said.

Keith Masback, CEO of the United States Geospatial Intelligence Foundation, precision technology is the future and can see job growth.

There were other people from around the country presenting STEM educational tools too that I would like to point out:

I finally got to meet the guys behind STEM Guitar, a program that uses guitar building to teach STEM subjects.

Bay Area Video Coalition (BAVC)  provides digital media and programming training to underrepresented groups in the San Francisco area.