Overcoming the STEM Opportunity Gap

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By Donald E. Bossi, President of FIRST

Our communities – and our classrooms – are more diverse than ever before. In fact, Generation Z and Millennials, who make up nearly half (48 percent) of the United States’ population, are more multicultural in their race and ethnic compositions than previous generations. As demographics continue to shift, so does the opportunity to build a uniquely diverse and innovative workforce – one that can truly address the challenges facing today’s world. However, for this to happen, the faces in the professional pipeline must change and mirror those of our schools and neighborhoods.

As educators, parents, and business leaders, we have a responsibility to offer all students – especially those who are underserved and underrepresented in STEM – equitable opportunities and pathways to success as contributing members of the workforce. It’s no secret that employers are looking for young talent with STEM skills and digital literacy. Moving forward, nearly every career – whether in product development, manufacturing, marketing, or the arts – will be more reliant on tech skills. By 2021, 69 percent of U.S. executives expect to choose job candidates with data science skills over those without. The students best prepared to fill these roles and find success after graduating high school will be those who experience meaningful STEM engagement opportunities throughout their K-12 years.

The foundation of any prosperous society lies in providing accessible advancement opportunities for its citizens. For today’s students, hurdles abound, whether financial, cultural, or geographic. Our responsibility is to ensure all kids have access to the tools they need to secure sustainable, living-wage jobs. Critical to accomplishing this is early exposure to high-quality, hands-on, STEM learning experiences that engage and inspire students. An example of where this type of early exposure is already being offered and is making an impact can be seen in the efforts of a nonprofit organization that I lead called FIRST. FIRST offers a progression of programs beginning at age 6 and continuing through high school that engages kids in a series of mentor-guided robotics competitions and innovation challenges, connecting STEM learning to exciting, real-world activities. In addition to STEM exposure, students in FIRST programs meet mentor role models and learn about innovation, entrepreneurship, and 21st-century skills like teamwork, collaboration, and critical thinking. Research has shown FIRST programs are game-changers for kids, opening them up to a world of opportunity. Additionally, STEM Equity Community Innovation Grants help make these programs available and accessible to underserved communities and underrepresented students, while committed supporters also make more than $50 million in scholarships available annually to graduating FIRST seniors to pursue higher education.

Schools are also recognizing the value that curriculum and environmental changes can have in making a positive impact on student advancement. Across the country, school systems are working hard to ensure all kids feel welcome, have a voice, and receive an equal shot at finding success. In a model worth emulating, a Ypsilanti, Michigan-based school with a large population of underserved students created STEM-centric programs based on the concept and ethos of FIRST. Since making this format change, the school’s graduation rate has jumped from 69 percent to 97 percent. Daily attendance is up from 84 percent to 92 percent, and suspensions have plummeted from 35 percent to the low single digits. At Ypsilanti STEMM Middle College, the STEM-focused curriculum is making tangible differences in the lives of students. One young man overcame a troubled home life to become valedictorian of his class, while another student, dealing with the emotional ramifications of her mother being deported, found a place to explore her interest in science. Thanks to the school’s changes and new concentration on STEM, students can pursue their passions in an affirming environment and gain the skills they’ll need in the modern workforce.

The responsibility to empower students from diverse backgrounds to succeed doesn’t rest solely on nonprofits and schools; it also falls on companies. As a management consulting firm, Booz Allen Hamilton understands this, having recently refreshed its values to include “Collective Ingenuity” or the ability to harness the power of diversity. Booz Allen Hamilton reflects Collective Ingenuity in its hiring practices, its community-support efforts – including supporting many FIRST teams – and how it approaches client challenges. They and other companies have a critical role to play in bolstering diversity in STEM, whether by providing scholarships to underserved and underrepresented students, offering relatable mentors for female and minority students, or awarding internships to students who otherwise wouldn’t have those prospects. They realize we shouldn’t be leaving talent on the table and are taking the necessary steps to ensure we don’t.

Together, businesspeople, educators, and nonprofit leaders can ensure we aren’t ignoring the potential of our diverse student population when it comes to STEM outcomes. That starts with investing in your community: Get to know the young faces in your local schools and neighborhoods. Find out what they need for success, and connect them with resources and youth-serving programs – like FIRST – that can help them get there. We need kids of all backgrounds, capabilities, and social circumstances to contribute and participate in addressing the world’s toughest challenges. With equitable access to opportunity, relevant mentorship, and engagement, any student can build a foundation for a bright future.

Here’s How This Latina Navigated Her Transition From Finance To Tech

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Marlene Arroyo may have started her career in finance, but it was the human aspect of any job that always drew her in. From Dell to her current role as Vice President of People Operations at Liftoff Mobile Inc., a high growth tech company in Silicon Valley, she has made it her career mission to champion employees and embrace how their humanity impacts their jobs.It was knowing what her career mission was at its core that made it possible for her to transition from one career path to the next.

“Philosophically, it became apparent to me that human resources was my calling when, as a finance professional, I’d enjoy spending most of my time dissecting costs associated to SG&A, training, hiring and coaching,” shares Arroyo. “Mechanically, the way I was able to make this transition was by having informational meetings with HR executives, taking evening courses, asking for help and being open about my aspirations to my sponsors. While the art of Human Resources came naturally to me, to differentiate myself, I needed to supercharge the impact I delivered by drawing from my finance experience and ensuring that my strategic recommendation were backed by data.”

Now, she uses her skill-set to help others achieve the kind of growth that she’s constantly challenged herself to work towards.

“My biggest motivation [through this journey] has been my family,” says Arroyo. “I feel incredibly blessed to be the daughter of immigrant parents who instilled in me work ethic and resilience. While my parents still do not completely understand what I do, they know I work hard and they are my biggest fans. Each education milestone and career progression has been theirs as well. Their American Dream lives in me and owning that, keeps me motivated .”

Growing up in the Latinx culture and within her own family unit can explain in part why Arroyo has felt the desire to pay it forward to other generations by way of her career.

Below she shares advice for Latinxs who are searching for advice on how to land their dream job, how to self-care if you’re in the position of constantly pouring into others, and how to make sure you’re learning the most from your current job.

Vivian Nunez: How has your Latinidad influenced your career?

Marlene Arroyo: Passion, humility, honor, perseverance – are all a part of my core values that I hold because of my Latinidad. Knowing that there is a lot more work to be done to help young Latinas see that they, too, can achieve their goals, keeps me in the arena.

Continue onto Forbes to read the complete article.

UCLA neurosurgeon named to National Academy of Medicine

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Election honors Dr. Linda Liau’s contributions to health care and science

Dr. Linda Liau, an internationally renowned neurosurgeon-scientist and chair of the neurosurgery department at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, has been elected by her peers to the National Academy of Medicine, one of the highest honors in the fields of health and medicine.

Membership honors people who have demonstrated outstanding professional achievements, commitment to service and contributions to the advancement of the medical sciences, health care and public health.

A scientist in UCLA’s Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center, Liau has devoted the past 25 years to developing and refining treatment strategies for glioblastoma, the most deadly form of brain tumor. Her research in the early 1990s led to her creating one of the first personalized vaccines, using a patient’s own tumor specimen and white blood cells to activate the immune system to fight off cancer.

“I have always had a huge drive to prove that things that seem impossible can actually be possible someday,” Liau said. “When I first started working on brain tumor immunotherapy, everyone told me that you can’t mount an immune response in the brain. Now we know that’s not true.”

Recognized for her expertise in complicated tumor surgery, Liau attracts patients from around the world and has performed more than 2,000 brain tumor surgeries. Her research has been continuously funded by the National Institutes of Health for the past two decades, and she has written more than 160 research articles, along with several book chapters and textbooks.

She also is a trailblazer in her specialty: Just 6 percent of licensed neurosurgeons in the U.S. are female, and Liau is only the second woman in the nation — and the first Asian-American woman — to lead an academic department of neurosurgery. As chair, Liau directs a clinical team of more than 60 neurosurgeons, neuroscientists, residents, fellows and other specialists in the UCLA Department of Neurosurgery, one of the world’s foremost centers for neurosurgical research, clinical care and education.

Continue onto UCLA Newsroom to read the complete article.

Donna Strickland is the 3rd woman ever to win the Nobel prize in physics

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“I thought there might have been more,” Strickland said, reacting to her win. She shares the prize with two other laser physicists.

The 2018 Nobel prize in physics has been awarded to three scientists — including one woman — for advancing the science of lasers and creating extremely useful tools out of laser beams.

The winners include Arthur Ashkin, 96, a retired American physicist who worked Bell Labs; Gerard Mourou, 74, now at the École Polytechnique in France and University of Michigan; and Donna Strickland, 59, now at the University of Waterloo in Canada.

These scientists are responsible for two important inventions. One is laser tweezers, which allow scientists to manipulate microscopic particles (often viruses and bacteria) within a laser beam. The second is a technology that led to the rapid increase of laser beam intensity, which has allowed for myriad laser-based tools, including the beams commonly used in laser eye surgery.

Ashkin, who took half of the $1 million prize, invented the optical (i.e., laser) tweezers in his work with Bell Labs in the 1980s. Mourou and Strickland worked on laser amplification at the University of Rochester, also in the 1980s.

Astonishingly, Strickland is just the third woman to have ever won the Nobel prize in physics. The prize has not been awarded to a woman since 1963 when Maria Goeppert-Mayer won for her work on atomic structure. That was 55 years ago! The only time a woman was awarded the prize before that was in 1903 when Marie Curie won for her work on radioactivity.

During the Nobel Prize press conference Tuesday morning, Strickland was reminded by a reporter she was the just third woman to win, and immediately responded, “Is that all, really? I thought there might have been more.”

She went on: “We need to celebrate women physicists because we’re out there. Hopefully, in time, it will start to move forward at a faster rate.” The Nobel committee has long been criticized for neglecting to honor women (who have been denied prizes, despite being behindsome incredible discoveries in recent decades.)

Why laser physics is worthy of a Nobel Prize

The Nobel prizes award discoveries and inventions that lead to the betterment of humanity. Strickland, and co-inventor Gerard Mourou, did just that. After lasers, which are focused beams of light, were first invented in the 1960s, the power and intensity they could reach quickly plateaued. That’s where Strickland and Mourou came in.

Continue onto Vox to read the complete article.

Digital Skills Help Narrow the Workplace Gender Gap

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woman-typing and talking on phone

Digitally savvy women are helping to close the gender gap in the workplace.

And digital fluency, the extent to which people embrace and use digital technologies to become more knowledgeable, connected and effective, plays a key role in helping women achieve gender equality and level the playing field.

A new research report from Accenture—Getting to Equal: How Digital is Helping Close the Gender Gap at Work—provides empirical proof that women are using digital skills to gain an edge in preparing for work, finding work and advancing at work. The report provides ample evidence that digital fluency acts as an accelerant at every stage of a woman’s career—a powerful one in both education and employment and an increasingly important factor for advancing into the ranks of leadership.

If governments and businesses can double the pace at which women become digitally fluent, gender equality could be achieved in 25 years in developed nations, versus 50 years at the current pace. Gender equality in the workplace could be achieved in 45 years in developing nations, versus 85 years at the current pace.

“Women represent an untapped talent pool that can help fill the gap between the skills needed to stay competitive and the talent available,” said Pierre Nanterme, Accenture’s chairman and chief executive officer. “There is a clear opportunity for governments and businesses to collaborate on efforts that will empower more women with digital skills—and accelerate gender equality in the workforce.”

Although digital fluency clearly helps women train for and gain employment, the relationship between digital fluency and women’s advancement is not as significant. This is expected to change as more millennial women and digital natives move into management; the research found that in the United States, six in 10 millennial women surveyed aspire to be in leadership positions.

While the research determined that digital fluency is having a positive impact on pay for both men and women, the gap in pay between genders is still not closing. Men are, by far, the dominant earners by household across all three generations—Millennials, Gen X, and Baby Boomers.

“There are many ways to narrow the gender gap in the workplace, but digital is a very promising avenue,” said Julie Sweet, Accenture’s group chief executive for North America. “This is a powerful message for all women and girls. Continuously developing and growing your ability to use digital technologies, both at home and in the workplace, has a clear and positive effect at every stage of your career. And it provides a distinct advantage, as businesses and governments seek to fill the jobs that support today’s growing economy.”

Source: Accenture

The Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing is going on now!

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The Grace Hopper Celebration (GHC), going on now through September 28 in Houston, TX, is the world’s largest gathering of women technologists. It is produced by AnitaB.org and presented in partnership with Association for Computing Machinery (ACM). More than 20,000 people from around the world have joined for three days of networking, learning, and hearing from an incredible lineup of speakers.

Speakers include: Justine Cassell, Associate Dean of Technology Strategy and Impact, Carnegie Mellon University–School of Computer Science; Jessica O. Matthews, Founder & CEO, Uncharted Power; Padmasree Warrior, CEO & Chief Development Officer, NIO U.S.

If you weren’t able to secure a registration, subscribe to the GHC General Newsletter to get information about how you can participate via livestreaming, viewing parties, social media, and blog posts from community members. Find out more about Anitab.org here. Look for event highlights at ghc.anitab.org.

“We envision a future where the people who imagine and build technology mirror the people and societies for which they build it.”

Preparing Students for Science and Technology Jobs

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student looking through microscope

Verizon launched #weneedmore, a national campaign to call attention to the millions of students across the United States, especially those from underserved communities, who lack technology in schools and exposure to careers in the science and technology sector.

#weneedmore is driven by a rallying cry that “we need more” kids—starting in middle school—to receive technology tools, resources, and instruction so that they can compete for jobs of tomorrow. As of today, there are more than 4 million jobs in science, technology engineering, and math fields. Verizon’s efforts build on five years and more than $160 million invested in building and sustaining programs across the country that provide free technology, access and immersive, hands-on learning to students and teachers, particularly in underserved and minority communities.

“I’ve met hundreds of kids across the country who want to create a better future for themselves, but many don’t know the first step in acquiring the science and technology skills they need to compete in a digital economy,” said Rose Kirk, chief corporate social responsibility officer, Verizon. “We want people everywhere to participate in ‘weneedmore’ to show these kids that we’re behind them and give them an equal shot at success.”

The #weneedmore campaign is powered by a vibrant content hub (weneedmore.com), along with a yearlong series of events and social activations to spur campaign engagement. The online hub is a destination where students, parents, and teachers can view, share, and interact with content designed to spark students’ curiosity and interest in science and technology. Additionally, select Verizon retail stores will offer opportunities for students to gain hands-on experience in virtual reality, 3-D printing, and robotics from experts.

To learn more about #weneedmore and how to support bringing hands-on learning in science and technology to students across the country, visit weneedmore.com.

Women in Computer Science: 6 Assumptions to Avoid

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women-computer-science

The shortage of women in computer science is no secret. It’s been a hot topic in recent years, with numerous organizations and campaigns rallying to increase the number of women in jobs related to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).

But the facts remain. Though interest and aptitude in STEM courses are about equal for both genders in lower grades, by the time kids hit high school, The National Science Board reports that male students take Engineering, Computer Science and Advanced Placement (AP) Computer Science classes in much larger percentages than female students.

The disparity only widens from there. Less than 20 percent of all bachelor’s degrees in Computer Science and Engineering are earned by women. The reason for this, according to research published by Frontiers in Psychology, is partially due to social barriers—both real and perceived.

The study argues that many women choose not to pursue Computer Science because they believe stereotypes about the kind of people who work in the field—and don’t see themselves fitting in with those stereotypes. In this way, perceptions can shape career paths.

But STEM careers can be lucrative and full of opportunity. Some reports indicate the demand for Computer Science graduates is higher than universities can churn them out. Additionally, computer scientists have a hand in creating the very tools that shape society. With more women at the helm of those inventions and decisions, other areas of implicit gender bias might be neutralized.

As you can see, there are more than a few good reasons for women to get into STEM careers. We connected with some prominent female tech professionals to get their views on some of the commonly held beliefs that may be keeping women away from the field.

Common misconceptions keeping women from computer science jobs:

  1. The math is impossibly difficult

This misconception thrives for both genders, but in a society where girls have been historically discouraged from pursuing mathematics as an academic interest, it disproportionately impacts women.

“Super advanced math isn’t necessary to be good at computer science,” says Milecia McGregor, founder of Flipped Coding. “The real focus is on logical thinking skills.” McGregor explains that designing algorithms or an architecture depends more on being able to see how the current state is going to affect the next state. While math is definitely still involved, McGregor says many computer scientists don’t need more than college-level algebra to get by.

“The problem is usually that equations get really long or have a lot of different symbols, and it makes things look more complicated than they are,” McGregor says. “As long as someone is willing to take the time to really analyze what’s happening logically, they can figure out how to do their calculations without a lot of math knowledge.”

  1. The work environment is hostile to women

“Especially today, with the media focused on the lack of women in tech, I think young women might expect a hostile work environment,” says Margaret Groves, founder of Engineered Process Improvement. “Or they at least expect to be a stranger in a strange land.”

Groves says while it’s true that women still stand out in many of the STEM fields, that high level of visibility doesn’t mean the work environment will be hostile. “I remember being 24, on a work trip and calling my mother saying, ‘This is a meeting of 50 people, and I’m the only woman.’ She said, ‘Well, at least they’ll remember you!’and she was right.”

Drawing visibility and standing out from the crowd automatically gives you some extra power. “You’ll stand out in meetings, in presentations and in projects,” Groves says. “No one will be able to forget who you are. In business, that’s extremely valuable.”

This is not to say that women won’t experience any hostility. Groves says the early days of her career were sprinkled with men talking over or ignoring her. “I’d wonder if my whole career would be like that.” But Groves soon realized much of the problem was just with certain individuals.

In these cases, Groves advises everyone to document offensive instances and individuals and recognize that the bias is their issue, not yours. Bias cuts in many directions as well. Groves points out that people of color, and even professionals who are younger than average also face barriers.

  1. Tech careers are antisocial

“I thought that all technology roles were very numbers-driven and antisocial,” says Jennifer McDermott, consumer advocate at Finder. A common stereotype is that Computer Science majors stay inside on their computers, avoiding other people as much as possible. Another is the idea that computer science-related careers aren’t often depicted as collaborative or full of teamwork. But many of them are exactly that.

If you prefer to work alone, then you can probably find a job situation to suit you. If you love to work with others, then you can find that too. “Now that I have been working in technology for some time, I have met women from all different walks of life, with different personalities, values and cultures, doing a gamut of work accessing a wide range of skills and experience,” McDermott says.

For a better look at what these careers are like, McDermott recommends asking professionals in the field about their jobs. “The people you canvas will give you real insights into and, often times, encouragement for their line of work. It is a highly rewarding industry with plenty of ongoing opportunities I think many women would love.”

  1. Computer science isn’t ‘feminine’

“I’ve heard plenty of misconceptions about women in tech. We’re somehow supposed to be isolated or exceptionally nerdy or somehow less feminine because of all the men in the field,” says Dasha Moore, founder of Solodev.

“It has developed this undercurrent where young girls don’t feel like there’s a place for them in technology.” Many stereotypes of people in STEM careers—often reinforced by TV shows and movies—involve men working and gaming. But Moore points out how strange it is to assume that certain hobbies or likes and dislikes automatically come with a love of technology or computer science.

You can be an absolute rock star in a software engineering job and also love being in nature, going dancing, reading literature or gaming. “Accept that we are multitudes. Female technologists can love pink and coding at the same time,” Moore says.

  1. Women in STEM careers don’t have time for relationships

“I had a lot of assumptions about the women in computer science before I became one,” McGregor says. “I was one of those people that thought if you went into any STEM field that you wouldn’t find a boyfriend.” Women who want to have a family also worry that their plans are incompatible with computer science-related careers.

Part of this assumption might come from female role models in technology who’ve been the subject of criticism, McDermott points out. “The ones that have received a lot of attention, for example, Sheryl Sandberg or Marissa Mayer, have been largely criticized for holding demanding positions while raising a family.” McDermott says this makes young women believe they will have to choose between a STEM career or their personal lives.

So many women in these fields do have it all, McGregor emphasizes. “These women have the job, the family, the looks and the brains to back it up.” The idea that you have to sacrifice personal relationships or forgo having a family to be a woman in computer science is just mistaken.

It is so important that the perception of women in STEM careers changes, McDermott says. “Young girls need to be exposed to more females in tech, from senior positions down to the [front lines]. We need to normalize women in tech instead of representing their careers as an anomaly.”

  1. A computer science major limits your career options

Even those who feel confident about their career path can get nervous at the thought of closing out all other options. If you like computer science, but worry that you are limiting your career choices, lay that worry aside. Computer science is much more versatile than people think.

“When you graduate, you’ll have more options than most of your friends, and you’ll have a skill that can literally take you around the world,” McGregor says. “Everything after graduation will be drastically different than what you experience in college, and when you have a computer science background, you can go anywhere. Companies will almost kill to hire you.”

A Computer Science major gives you a skill set that companies in every industry want. And if you decide to move on from a programming-heavy role, other employers will love your background. “These days with internet-based services pervading all parts of our life, anyone who pursues a tech career has a ton of opportunities in fields such as internet marketing, sales and tech reporting,” says Nirupama Mallavarupu, founder of MobileArq.

We need women in computer science

These commonly held beliefs about the computer science field may be deterring women like you from pursuing promising careers. While there may be a kernel of truth to many of these beliefs, that doesn’t mean women should avoid computer science. By taking on this currently challenging, yet shifting environment, you can set a strong example for other women to pursue and excel in STEM fields.

“Keep asking questions. Keep challenging the status quo,” Moore says. “If this education is what you want, have an unshakable passion for your classes. And remember—you can do it.”

About Rasmussen College

Rasmussen College is a regionally accredited private college that is dedicated to changing lives and the communities it serves through high-demand and flexible educational programs. Since 1900, the College has been committed to academic innovation and empowering students to pursue a college degree. Rasmussen College offers certificate and diploma programs through associate’s, bachelor’s and master’s degrees in seven schools of study including business, health sciences, nursing, technology, design, education and justice studies.

Author: Brianna Flavin
Source:rasmussen.edu/degrees/technology/blog/women-in-computer-science-assumptions-to-avoid/

How This Tech Founder Is Giving The Internet A Face Lift By Changing The Way We Shop

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Shirley Chen’s list of experiences is as diverse as it is impressive: she spent her childhood on China’s national gymnastics team, studied biochemical engineering at Columbia University, interned at Chanel, Bergdorf Goodman, and Vogue, and worked as a media and retail consultant at McKinsey & Company, a global management consulting firm.

Chen never imagined her resume would include founding a company. But when a former Vogue colleague tapped her on the shoulder to run the marketing and business development for luxury goods brand Moda Operandi, a seed was planted. Chen was tasked with driving customer acquisition with a specific focus on digital e-commerce, and that’s where she spotted a gap in the market.

Companies were so focused on the traffic from traditional platforms like Google and Facebook that they were missing a valuable source of customer acquisition—online content. When consumers wanted to find the trendiest swimsuit, most effective blackout curtains, or best-priced coffee maker, they looked for the answer in online magazines and blogs. The problem with that was two-fold. On the one hand, thanks to an aging internet, many older links on publishers’ pages are dead, leading consumers to 404 pages. On the other, many publishers were using hardcoded, static links to Amazon product pages (some 650 million times per month), meaning consumers didn’t have the opportunity to consider purchasing from other retailers, even if Amazon didn’t have the best price. In either case, it was a lose-lose-lose situation for consumers, advertisers, and publishers alike.

Chen devised a solution with Narrativ, a tech company that’s using AI to #EndThe404 and build a better internet for shoppers by making sure that every time they click on a product link on a publisher’s site, it will lead not just to an active page, but to the retailers with the best price.

“We built a SmartLink technology that repaired broken links online, and we democratized that pipeline that was being hard credited to Amazon through content,” Chen explained. “The mission is to improve the consumer shopping experience and build a better research experience as well when it comes to buying products.”

The results so far have been stellar. In the year since their launch out of stealth mode, Narrativ has raised over $3.5 million in venture capital, rewired more than one billion links, and impacted more than 200 million internet users each month. Narrativ, who has also partnered with notable brands like Dermstore, Ulta Beauty, and New York Magazine, is set to deliver more than $600 million in advertiser value in 2018, and has earned a nod from the World Economic Forum as a Technology Pioneer.

Chen stands at the helm of it all, CEO of a game-changing tech company she was once almost too afraid to build. She recalls the nervousness she felt when the idea first came to her. She approached two former employers to build it, but both declined. That’s when Chen’s mentor, head of McKinsey’s North America Media spoke the words that fired her up: “Why don’t you build this thing on your own? I think you’re being a real coward.” She knew that he spoke not to discourage her, but to push her to make a move.

Continue onto Forbes to read the complete article.

Ph.D. with ADHD brings can-do focus to science, life

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In third grade, Jennifer “Jenna” Kotler was perfectly happy counting the tiles in the classroom ceiling instead of doing her work. What she tried hard to do was sit quietly like her classmates in their French-immersion school in Toronto.

Sitting quietly isn’t a requirement at Harvard, a place no one ever expected Kotler to land. At age 8, she was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), a learning disability that can challenge even the most determined student.

“I was not disruptive, never got into physical altercations or had vocal modulation,” Kotler said. “But my third-grade teacher knew I had a learning disorder because I could not do the written work. My mom had to stand behind me with her thumbs in my ears and her hands around my eyes so I could finish a page of multiplication tables.”

Twenty years later, Kotler is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Organismic & Evolutionary Biology (OEB) at Harvard’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. An evolutionary theorist, she uses clinical and genetic studies to reinterpret how humans think about health, disease, and the human evolutionary path, especially as it relates to biological and psychological development.

David Haig, the George Putnam Professor of Biology and Kotler’s doctoral adviser, worked with her to create an interdisciplinary research program that would accommodate her condition. While she doesn’t count the ceiling tiles in her brightly lighted office at the Harvard Museum of Natural History, Kotler still spends nearly every waking moment combating her ADHD, which affects both her memory and her personality.

“My brain works differently … I struggle daily with how to be in the workplace and constantly monitor myself,” Kotler said. “I’m really enthusiastic and eager, so I talk a lot, and really loudly. I interrupt a lot, and can be distracting to others. I’m extremely friendly, and tend to come on very strong. It sets you up for a lot of heartbreak, because that’s not how people typically interact.”

Kotler credits her early ADHD diagnosis with summoning a mission to help others who face arduous paths and learning to convert her own challenging characteristics into strengths.

“It’s really difficult to separate your personality, your identity, from your diagnosis. They are deeply connected,” Kotler said. “Most of the training I got through school was how to be successful there, which was important, but not sufficient when you are trying to survive the rest of the world. I needed support.”

She got that growing up in a family of feminists and activists. Outings with her parents often involved bringing snacks to teachers on a picket line, or sitting with striking daycare workers. Her early engagement in local activism, and her rejection of gender stereotyping, grew into a commitment to social justice.

“I never felt like I wasn’t smart because of ADHD; my parents did not emphasize my diagnosis, and my family talked to me about complicated issues,” she said. “They knew I was capable and also knew I needed to learn the skills to get things done.”

Kotler combined multiple therapies, including neurofeedback, focus training, and muscle-relaxation exercises, to manage her symptoms, but it was years before she could sit still in a classroom. As an undergraduate at McMaster University, studying psychology, neuroscience, and behavior, she often needed to Skype with her mother to do her work.

“It was hard for me to sit and do the work alone. I have some hyperactivity,” she said. “I just needed to know somebody was there helping me.”

Continue onto the Harvard Newsroom to read the complete article.

5 Ways for Parents to Become Savvy About Hidden Added Sugars

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Hidden Sugars

FREDERICKSBURG, Virginia – Ask 10 parents how much added sugar their child consumes each day and there’s a good chance that at least 9 of them will have no clue or will underestimate it. In fact, research published in the International Journal of Obesity reported that 92 percent of the parents surveyed in the study underestimated the added sugar content in foods and beverages.

The study also showed that kids are more likely to be overweight when their parents are misinformed about sugar in their kids’ diet. Since sugar intake is associated with an increased risk of being overweight and parents are a child’s nutritional gatekeeper, it essential that they know the ins and outs of sugar.

“Added sugars have infiltrated our lives in a pervasive way, making it crucial that parents know how to identify it and how much is too much,” says Dr. Nimali Fernando, a Fredericksburg, Virginia-based pediatrician who founded The Doctor Yum Project. “Without solid information regarding sugar intake, we may be setting our children up for possible health problems later.”

According to the American Heart Association, children should consume less than 25 grams of added sugar per day, which is equivalent to 6 teaspoons, and that children under the age of 2 should not have any sugar-added foods or beverages. They report that eating foods high in added sugar throughout childhood is linked to a higher risk of developing such diseases in adulthood as heart disease. It’s also linked to obesity and elevated blood pressure in both children and adults.

Childhood obesity has become a hot-button issue in recent years, as the number of children considered overweight and obese continues to rise, particularly among children age 2-5. According to a recent report in the New England Journal of Medicine, 57 percent of today’s children are predicted to be obese by age 35.

Parents are often confused when it comes to sugar intake with their children. Sugar that comes in the form of whole fruit is generally good, while added sugar is what parents need to really watch. Added sugars are those sugars that have been used by the food industry to enhance a food’s flavor. While a piece of fruit is a good choice, “fruit snacks” (the kind that come look like soft candy, for example) may not be, because of the added sugars. Even some foods that seem healthy may contain “hidden” added sugars, making it important for parents to get to know the terms and become label readers.

Here are 5 ways for parents to become savvy about the sneaky ways food companies add sugar to foods:

  1. Confusing food labels. Figuring out how many added teaspoons are in a recipe is not straightforward. First, food labels report sugar in grams. So remember this equation the next time you look at a label: 4 grams of sugar = 1 teaspoon of sugar. To further complicate things, food labels historically did not break down added sugar with naturally occurring sugar. So when we look at a label on a sweetened fruit yogurt, it’s often unclear how much of the sugar comes from natural milk sugars and fruit versus how much extra sugar the food company has added. Luckily, by the end of 2018 most food labels will be updated to break down total vs added sugar which will make reading a label more straightforward.
  2. Small portion sizes. A favorite food may not look like it has much sugar per serving, but if you look closely you may notice that the serving size is much smaller than what you may actually eat. Take the example of cereal. A typical serving size for cereal may be a half a cup or less than a cup per serving, which is much smaller than most people will actually eat (especially if it’s really sweet, because you are likely to eat more). If there are two teaspoons of sugar in a serving, but you can eat three servings, that 2 teaspoons quickly multiplies to 6 teaspoons, the recommended daily limit for a child.
  3. Sweetening with “healthier” sugars. Sweeteners like honey, agave and maple syrup may make a food appear healthier, but that doesn’t mean they actually are. While they may be more natural than refined sugar, manufacturers are still adding sugar to a food that may not need extra sweetness. Don’t be fooled by healthier sounding added sweetener ingredients.
  4. Using sneaky names for sugar.Sometime it can be hard to spot sugar in an ingredient list because there are so many code names. One nutrition source reports that sugar can be spotted with as many as 61 different names. Sugar’s many code names include: rice syrup, dextrose, maltose and barley malt, and high-fructose corn syrup. This is a great tactic, as companies are required to list foods by weight in decreasing order. By listing sugar with more than one name, companies may be able to bury sugar further down on the list, making it seem like there is less.
  5. Know the sneakiest foods.There are some foods that seem to have hidden sugars in them more often than others. Be aware of and read the labels carefully on such foods as granola bars, breakfast cereals, yogurt, fruit snacks, and juice. Juice is trickier because technically the sugar in juice is considered naturally occurring. However, it’s more like a processed food. There is nothing natural about a child drinking the equivalent of 5 apples worth of sugar. And when we drink apple juice, there is no fiber to help slow down the absorption the way there is when we eat an apple. Skip the juice and stick with water for hydration and whole fruit for fiber and nutrients instead.

“Childhood is where many of our food habits are formed, making it that much more important that we help our children learn to sensibly navigate the nutritional landscape,” added Heidi DiEugenio, director of the Doctor Yum Project. “The more we can help them learn better and healthier food habits now, the more they will benefit from those choices and habits into the future.”

Dr. Fernando created The Doctor Yum Project, an organization with the mission of transforming the lives of families and communities by providing an understanding of the connection between food and overall health, as well as empowering them with the tools to live a healthy life. The project offers healthy cooking classes, child nutrition classes, cooking camps for kids, hands-on cooking instruction for families, first foods classes, a teaching garden, and online tools to help families make healthier meals. They also offer a preschool nutrition program, with 40 classrooms and almost 600 participating preschoolers.

Dr. Fernando, otherwise known as Dr. Yum, is a board-certified pediatrician. She is also the co-author of the book “Raising a Healthy, Happy Eater: A Parent’s Handbook” (The Experiment, October 2015). To learn more, visit the site at: doctoryum.org.

About The Doctor Yum Project
Founded by Dr. Nimali Fernando, The Doctor Yum Project is a nonprofit organization that is dedicated to transforming the lives of families and communities by providing an understanding of the connection between food and overall health, as well as empowering them with the tools to live a healthy life. They offer a variety of community programs to help with those efforts. They are located in Fredericksburg, Virginia, and feature an instructional kitchen and teaching garden for holding classes. To learn more, visit the site at: doctoryum.org.

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Sources:
American Heart Association. Children should eat less than 25 grams of added sugar daily. newsroom.heart.org/news

International Journal of Obesity. Parents’ considerable underestimation of sugar and their child’s risk of overweight. nature.com