Common Name, Uncommon Path

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Common seated at the panel at the Black Caucus

By Jovane Marie

With a career spanning almost three decades, Common’s journey in the spotlight has been anything but.

Along the way, he’s gained an ever-expanding list of titles and credits that run the gamut: rapper, artist, father, actor, activist, model, author, designer, philanthropist, Microsoft ambassador, and Academy Award winner, to name a few.

But if you’re thinking that’s enough to satisfy this modern-day Renaissance Man, you’re wrong. “I revel in the fact that in being all of these things, I don’t have to choose,” said the multi-hyphenate talent. “I want to do and be more…what I’ve accomplished so far is great, but there is always more to achieve.”

Voice of the Future
Common might’ve had his start in the music industry, but he’s no stranger to the world of STEM. In fact, he’s had a long-standing relationship with tech behemoth Microsoft dating all the way back to 2008, when the two partnered to launch Softwear (a play on “software”), a retro clothing line of T-shirts featuring MS-DOS (an operating system) font. Six years later, that partnership was re-birthed as the tech giant searched for a spokesperson to helm its first Super Bowl commercial. Common sent in a tape explaining why he wanted to lend his voice, and the rest—they say—is history. Since the inaugural commercial in 2014, the artist has lent his voice to a multitude of commercials, shorts, and presentations touting the importance of advancing technology and the infinite possibilities created by Microsoft’s artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities.

“Technology is possibility, adaptability, and capability,” he muses in one spot. “It’s not about changing what came before—it’s about creating what comes next. Right now, we have more power at our fingertips than entire generations that came before us…the question is, what will we do with it?”

Actor to Activist
Common’s firm footing in the entertainment industry might sound like a full-time endeavor, but he has consciously created the time and space to enrich and advocate for the causes he believes in. “The truth is, you don’t have to be an actor, or an athlete, or an influencer to make a difference,” he said in a recent interview with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Ernie Suggs. “All you have to do is have a desire the make the world a better place. Every human being can do it, and I have a desire to do my part.”

L to R-Lamar Johnson, Sabrina Carpenter, Russell Hornsby, Amandla Stenberg, Algee Smith and Common attend The Hate U Give New York Screening at Paris Theatre
L to R-Lamar Johnson, Sabrina Carpenter, Russell Hornsby, Amandla Stenberg, Algee Smith and Common attend “The Hate U Give” New York Screening at Paris Theatre.

This desire has manifested into fervent action focused on increasing and championing diversity and mentoring youth in the inner-cities of his home state, among other things.

In January, he delivered the closing keynote at the CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion conference, a gathering of more than 250 Chief Human Resource Officers (CHRO) and Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officers (CDO) from an array of Fortune 500 companies on a mission to provide tangible, ready-to-implement strategies to encourage and increase diversity and inclusion both internally and within their local communities.

“My interest in promoting diversity was rooted in my looking in these communities and seeing certain people not having access to the same opportunities,” said the ardent advocator. “The undeniable fact is that we need to see more women and POC [people of color] in positions of power—same for different beliefs and those in the LGBTQ+ community.” “We have to figure out ways to increase the diversity, and that starts with a conversation. For me, I love being in a position where I can be a part of the paradigm shift and contribute to that conversation.”

Common performs onstage during OZY Fest
Common performs onstage during OZY Fest 2018 at Rumsey Playfield, Central Park in New York City.

Speaking to C-suite leaders about diversity isn’t the only way Common is lending his voice to the diversity conversation. In 2018, after African-American business partners Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson were racially profiled in a Starbucks—causing national outrage—the chain subsequently closed 8,000 stores for a day to conduct anti-bias training. The voice they heard in those videos, stressing the importance of anti-discrimination and inclusivity? Take a guess. The art of the give-back has further manifested into the creation of the Common Ground Foundation, an organization dedicated to reach and impact inner-city youth in Chicago through mentorship and college-preparation programs. For more than a decade, the foundation has intimately focused on nutrition, healthy living, financial living, character development, and creative expression—even holding youth leadership conferences and summer camps. With more than $230,000 in scholarships awarded, a 100 percent graduation rate among participants, a 99 percent college attendance rate, and more than 2,500 collective hours of community service provided to the community, the organization has earned the distinction of an impactful labor of love.

Common with classroom full of school children.
Common visits NYC elementary school for Back-To-School fundraising with Burlington Stores and AdoptAClassroom. JAMIE MCCARTHY/GETTY IMAGES

“I started the Common Ground Foundation because I wanted to help,” said the philanthropist. “I think making a difference in the lives of others is life’s greatest purpose, and I always believed that of we started with the youth, we’d be planting the seeds for our future to blossom.”

A Tale of Common Sense
Common, born Lonnie Rashid Lynn to an educator mother and youth counselor father, was raised in the Calumet Heights neighborhood of Chicago, where his foray into the world of music developed and thrived. Talented and precocious, he was writing lyrics by age 12, and at 15, formed a rap trio—C.D.R.—with two high school friends. Far from just an after-school hobby, the group served as an industry incubator, not only building his proficiency in writing, producing and performing, but also aiding in his personal branding as an artist.

“C.D.R. represented so much in my life, and it was the birthplace of a lot of artistic firsts,” remembered Common. “That acronym was a revolving door of different meanings—it mainly stood for Corey, Deon, Rashid [our names], but on other days, it was Compact Disc Recorder, or Recording Def Rhymes. We were learning how to record, making demos, writing songs, performing—just trying to figure ourselves out and do our thing.” Influenced by hip-hop’s titans of the time, including LL Cool J, Run DMC, A Tribe Called Quest, NWA, and Rakim, C.D.R. went on to gain a footing in the industry, having their songs played on the University of Chicago’s local radio station and opening concerts for Big Daddy Kane, Eazy-E, and Too Short.

Upon graduation, Common enrolled at Florida A&M University under a scholarship, where he majored in business administration. His artistic streak remained uninterrupted, however, and in 1991, after being featured in The Source magazine’s Unsigned Hype column, he left A&M to sign with Relativity Records. It was under this label that he released his first album, “Can I Borrow a Dollar?”, using the moniker Common Sense. The album was an underground success, and laid the groundwork (as well as a growing fanbase) for his subsequent albums and collaborations. To date, Common has won more than 20 awards from various distinguished award bodies for his lyrics, albums and performances, including a 2015 Academy Award for his and singer John Legend’s original song “Glory” (from the Selma soundtrack), three Grammys, four BET Awards, a Golden Globe, and an Emmy. He has also garnered over 40 nominations in the music industry.

More than Music
Had Common been content to produce records, pull awards, and perform his hits for dedicated fans around the world, that might’ve been the end of the story. But, true to his character, he always had his sights set for more—much more. He began making his mark in the film and television industry in the early 2000s, often making cameos as himself and later evolving into more complex roles in well-known films, such as American Gangster (starring Denzel Washington), Wanted, Just Wright, Suicide Squad, Selma (as activist James Bevel), and installments of the John Wick franchise, to name a few. His constantly growing acting portfolio, which currently includes more than 40 films, supports a long-term goal to eventually become one of the great actors of our time.

Common standing posing with his childrens book
Common with his children’s book, “I Like You but I Love Me”.

“I’m still working to get to where I want to be, and I’m always working to get to the next level,” he said. “The majority of roles I want, they’re looking at other actors for. But I’m always going to fight to prove myself.” As he works tirelessly to widen his range and nab multifaceted roles, Common is also focused on another goal: helping amplify the creative voices of others through his nearly five-year-old production company, Freedom Road Productions. To date, he has executive produced Showtime’s popular drama The Chi (created by screenwriter Lena Waithe, the first African-American woman to win an Emmy for Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series), and last year, signed a deal to develop and produce new television series with Lionsgate TV.

On the Horizon
Common’s career in the spotlight has diverged into many paths during its three-decade journey, and it shows no signs of slowing down. Add to that his impactful work in mentorship, advocacy, and diversity, and a bevy of new projects within all of these fields, and it’s safe to say that he may never stop. Next up is his second book, Let Love Have the Last Word, a personal anthology exploring the core tenets of love to help others give and receive love to live better lives and build stronger communities. Following on the heels of his New York Times best-selling memoir, One Day It’ll All Make Sense, the book is sure to be a page-turner.

On the film front, the actor will feature or star in three upcoming films: The Informer, The Kitchen, and John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum. Several TV series in collaboration with Lionsgate are also in the works. Simply put, Common wants to expand his experience, provide opportunities for others, and inspire.

“I want to live my passions, help others do the same, and make the world a better place, as much as I can,” he said. “This—all of this—inspires me to work harder and do more.”

What it Takes to be a Successful Woman in the Field of Architecture

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Gretchen Callejas poses for a headshot in an outdoor setting

By Gretchen Callejas

Frank Lloyd Wright. I.M. Pei. Those are the familiar names of two of America’s best-known architects.

Wright’s distinct prairie-style homes dot the American landscape while Pei’s large but elegantly designed urban buildings and complexes are among the world’s most famous architectural works. Pei’s projects, among others, include the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., and the controversial glass pyramid in Paris’ Louvre Museum courtyard.

But have you heard of Julia Morgan, who designed California’s famous Hearst Castle?

Or trailblazers such as Marion Mahony Griffin, the first woman to be officially licensed as an architect, and Zaha Hadid, the first woman to win the Pritzker Architecture Prize?

It isn’t surprising if you haven’t. According to a January 2019 article in ThoughtCo., which listed 20 famous female architects, the role that women have played in architecture and design often go under the radar.

While architecture has been a male-dominated field, that is not the case at Felder & Associates, where I have worked since its inception in 2012. We have four women and three men on staff. The forward-thinking leadership of the firm’s managing principal, Brian Felder, has played an extraordinary part in making our workplace a gender free oasis in an otherwise industry-wide testosterone-filled desert.

Why is architecture, like so many other professions, such a tough profession for women to crack?

According to a 2016 article in the Los Angeles Times, only 18 percent of licensed practitioners are women although they make up nearly half of U.S. architecture school graduates. This disparity sometimes is referred to as “the missing 32 percent.” Unfortunately, females leave the field in disturbingly high numbers after they’re confronted with lower salaries, given fewer career-building opportunities or find a lack of mentors, who champion for them.

Full-time female architects earn 20 percent less than their male counterparts, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Plus, architecture’s history as a male-dominated profession has contributed to an all-consuming workplace culture that leaves little flexibility for women expected to balance work and family. According to the Times article, 75 percent of female survey respondents had experienced sexual discrimination on the job, and 83 percent believed having a child would hurt their careers.

My personal observations and experiences have confirmed some of these disparities, but I consider myself lucky.

Fortunately, I’ve been able to maintain a successful professional career while balancing family because I have a husband who shares responsibilities and encouragement. Without his support, it would be more challenging to continue with a professional career.

And while I have quite a few female friends who are architects, I have never worked for a woman nor had a strong female mentor. Contractors and clients often assume I need to ask my male boss for help in understanding construction, codes or a design issue. When I approach a problem with the same assertiveness as a male architect, I’m sometimes labeled with the “B”-word.

Since I was a kid, I dreamed of designing buildings before I knew what that encompassed. And now as an adult would I encourage young girls to enter architecture? Absolutely. I would tell young women (and men) entering the field that determination and passion go a long way. You will be successful if you work hard, tune out the negativity and chase your goals with perseverance. If you want to be an Architect, then go be one.

I finally believe that I am in a position to give them a hand. I’ve been around enough to help guide them and try to be the mentor I never had. I’m pleased we have two young women working with us at Felder & Associates. Alma Johnson and Cathryn Sinclair graduated with architectural degrees from the Savannah College of Art and Design last year and are interning with us as project associates.

Sinclair says she believes the playing field is more level than ever before but there is always room for improvement.

“I hope to continue to see the gap close,” she says.

For Johnson, success is based on how hard you work.

“Now, the gender gap does exist, but I think that the world is evolving on a more modern idea of a woman in the workplace. I don’t see gender. I see what skill sets I need to acquire to be as successful as the candidate next to me,” Johnson says.

I hope their perspectives will remain true and their positivity high after spending 15 years or so in the industry. I suspect they will reflect on their early days as a time when they had to deal with an old and outdated set of standards.

One thing I know for certain. They are in a wonderful setting to avoid bias and discrimination working at Felder & Associates. We are, thankfully, treated equally regardless of our gender, and we treat one another with mutual respect and understanding.

My hope for young women in architecture is that they will continue to mentor the next generations of women architects, have equal opportunities and respect. One day we will be as well-known as Frank Lloyd Wright and I.M. Pei.

Gretchen Callejas is a project architect at Felder & Associates, where she specializes in historic preservation, adaptive reuse, small scale commercial architecture and high-end residential design. She is also LEED-accredited from the U.S. Green Building Council. Callejas earned Bachelor of Architecture and Bachelor of Science in Environmental Design from Ball State University and a Master of Fine Arts in Historic Preservation from Savannah College of Art and Design.

Citations:

  1. Craven, Jackie (2019, January). 20 Famous Women Architects. ThoughtCo. Retrieved from: https://www.thoughtco.com/famous-female-architects-177890
  2. Stratigakos, Despina (2016, April). Why is the world of architecture so male-dominated? LA Times. Retrieved from: https://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-stratigakos-missing-women-architects-20160421-story.html
  3. Newman, Caroline (2019, January). Three Generations Of Female Architects Seek To Bring More Women Into The Profession. UVA Today. Retrieved from: https://news.virginia.edu/content/3-generations-female-architects-seek-bring-more-women-profession

 

 

Urban Workshop Sets High Bar for Makerspaces

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urban workshop kids program

By Michele Nash-Hoff

The National Association for Community College Entrepreneurship held a Makerspace Ecosystem Summit titled “Make/Shift” in Irvine on April 24-26th, and I was able to attend the last day.  I learned that in 2016,” the California Community College Chancellor’s Office, Workforce and Economic Division funded the $17 million CCC Maker Initiative for three years under the  Doing What Matters for Jobs and the Economy  framework.

It was the first statewide initiative to grow a system of community college makerspaces and included funding for 800 internships.

After a rigorous application process, 24 “California community colleges were awarded grants to establish makerspaces — do-it-yourself centers where students have access to technology that allows them to create, invent, learn and share ideas. Each of the selected colleges was awarded from $100,000 to $350,000 per year for up to two years.” The makerspace at Mt. San Jacinto Community College in Menifee that I visited last October on MFG Day was one of the funded makerspaces.

“Makerspaces —also known as fablabs — are places in a community where people get together to learn and invent using technology such as 3-D printers, computer-aided design (CAD) software and manufacturing equipment that might otherwise be unaffordable for an individual to purchase.” The California Community College (CCC) “Maker initiative is aimed at strengthening the workforce by inspiring students to learn by doing, teaching in-demand skills for jobs in science, technology, engineering and math fields, partnering with employers to provide internships…”.

The makerspace grants were planned to coincide with a program by the CCC “to promote its more than 200 career education programs as affordable training for good-paying jobs.” The CCC is the largest provider of workforce training in the U.S. with 114 campuses across the state serving 2.1 million students per year. Its career education programs are developed in partnership with local industries and taught by instructors with direct work experience.

At the first session on Friday, Willy Duncan, Superintendent and President of Sierra College said that while the initial funding has ended, he is committed to continuing the good work and getting follow up funding for the makerspaces. He emphasized that entrepreneurship in 4th Industrial Revolution is being led by entrepreneurs disrupting existing technologies.  He said that the Fourth Industrial Revolution is interacting with other socio-economic and demographic factors to create a perfect storm of business model change in all industries, resulting in major disruptions to labor markets. It is a fusion of new technologies and talents.

The skills needed are more complex and cut across disciplines. Artificial Intelligence, Industrial IoT, automation, and robotics have the potential of creating new jobs, but will widen the skills gap.” He referenced the Future of Jobs Report, which states that automation will accelerate skills shift and social and creative skills will be more important — 42% of skills will change and

75 million jobs could be displaced. The less you make now will put you at risk for being displaced.

He mentioned that a study by the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism on Third Space Competencies stated that “third places” are places where you can connect to unlock innovation, drive collaboration, and develop talent.  He recommended that educators need to create third places within makerspaces. He said, “A mindset of agile learning will be needed on the part of workers in the future.  Project-based learning is the hallmark of makerspaces, and students who struggle in traditional leaning may excel in project-based learning. The future will require life-long learning to continually acquire new skills.”

Mr. Duncan said we need to figure out how to revamp learning to stay relevant. It can’t take years to change. Collaboration is critical to implementing change and learning how to lead “from the middle.”

Partnerships through collaboration within the College as well as within the community

Amy Schultz – Dean of Continuing and Technical training at Sierra College said that they partnered with Hacker Labs to create their Makerspace and said their makerspace has an advanced manufacturing. lab with Haas CNC equipment. Partnerships succeed when each partner benefits so it can be sustained.

Dr. Cathy Kemper—Pelle, President of Rogue Community College, in Grants Pass, OR said they partnered with local community to create a makerspace in the downtown area of the city. They bought an old manufacturing building and converted it into large Makerspace, and students are participating in Invent Oregon.

Cabrillo College in Aptos, near Monterrey Bay, partnered with local Goodwill for creating internships for makerspace students and held a joint internship fair.

Dr, Carlos Turner-Cortez. San Diego Continuing Ed. said that their Center provides noncredit training classes that are free.

Some insights from the session were:

  • Artificial Intelligence is allowing companies to develop new products at a faster pace
  • Transportation is going autonomous and vertical at the same time
  • Mode of teaching is being disrupted by online learning and compressed learning
  • Try non-credit training if you want to innovate

Next, I attended the breakout session, Building a Strong Workforce – A TED talk panel discussion – The Future is Happening Now – Cari Vinci of InVINcible Enterprises

In Ms. Vinci’s presentation, she noted that the goal of 70% of students is to go to college, but 75% are undecided about a major.  In the 21st Century workplace, only 23% of future jobs will require 4-year college degree, 34% will require an associate degree or some college, 34% will require a High School diploma or less, and only 11% will require an advanced degree. Today’s education isn’t meeting the needs of the workplace.  A Gallup poll showed that the role of higher education needs to be “purpose-based education.” A mindset of lifelong learning and an understanding of what’s going on globally will be necessary. The new ”Power Skills” for technical skills is to learn what robots and Artificial Intelligence can’t do yet. Students need to acquire the 21st Century Power Skills to ensure success.  Her Playbook for Teens helps students become the CEO of their life and find their career sweet spot.  Community Colleges and makerspaces are catalysts to connect the dots through internships, apprenticeships, and entrepreneurship.

Panelist Andy McCutcheon, Dean of the School of Humanities and Maker Space, College of the Canyons, shared that their MakerSpace is part an integrative learning model that encourages the development of 21st century technical and professional skills while connecting students with community and career paths. Their MakerSpace offers unique opportunities for helping students to connect classroom content and theory with real world problem solving while exploring career opportunities within and beyond their majors and foster connections that may lead to work-based learning opportunities like internships and apprenticeships.  MakerSpace 100 is a project that has placed 25 COC students with two local community partners, JPL’s Mars Rover Team and the Santa Clarita City Hall “Green Streets” team. Students are working in teams to develop solutions related to a NASA payload project and the Sustainable Santa Clarita project gaining important workplace experience while earning college credit and being paid through the CCC Maker Grant.

Panelist, Sarah Boisvert has over 30 years’ experience in advanced manufacturing and is the author of the book, The New Collar Workforce. She is the co-founder of Potomac Photonics, Inc. a laser machine tool company, which she and her partners sold in 1999. Since “retiring”, she founded Fab Lab Hub, located in Santa Fe, NM, which is a member of America Makes, the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute. Ms. Boisvert highlighted the re-emergence of manufacturing and briefly presented a blueprint of how to leverage this new, new manufacturing in colleges. She explained that the new collar workforce is a combination of entrepreneurial, design, fabricators, business, and other skills that is turning the traditional workforce training model on its head. She said that where blue collar assembly line positions are being replaced by robots, a new collar job is being created to maintain and control the systems. She said that the evolution of traditional blue-collar jobs into new digitally minded jobs that work symbiotically with robots and intelligent technology will be the key to exponential growth, and many new collar workers are attending vocational schools and community colleges rather than attaining traditional four-year degrees.

The final session featured a discussion of sustainability and funding insights from Foundation leaders:

Stephanie Bowman, Manager, HP Foundation – she said that the HP Foundation provides HP Foundation provides core business and IT skills training free of charge for start-ups, students, and small businesses through HP LIFE (Learning Initiative for Entrepreneurs)  Each module takes one hour and you get certificate when complete. They have awarded $23 million in grants in 42 countries. The mission of the HP Foundation is to make life better for undeserved and underrepresented communities by providing technology-related learning experiences and opportunities.

Rachel Burnnette, Program Officer, Lemelson Foundation (Portland, OR) – she said that the Foundation uses the power of invention to improve lives, by inspiring and enabling the next generation of inventors and invention-based enterprises to promote economic growth in the US, and social and economic progress for the poor in developing countries. The Foundation has provided or committed more than $185 million in grants and Program-Related Investments in support of its mission. They run their funding through Venturewell.

I’m very glad to see that community colleges are taking the lead in providing career technical training to bridge the widening gap of job skills for the 21st century workplace. Makerspaces are uniquely poised to foster real world connections between theory and practice and between the classroom and what a student might want to do with his or her life.  What concerns me is that many of the 24 California Community Colleges may wind up struggling to keep their doors open at a time when colleges across the state are looking for ways to cut costs in response to the statewide shortfall caused by a new funding formula. New programs without ongoing funding may be the first to go as districts tighten their belts. I can only hope that private foundations like those mentioned above and collaborative industry partnerships will alleviate the funding gap.

Jelani Odlum, Michelson 20MM Foundation (Los Angeles) – she said the Foundation supports innovation in education and higher learning initiatives. The Foundation’s founder, Dr. Gary Michelson,  has several hundred patents for his company. She explained that the vision for their Spark Grants program is to introduce an innovative just-in-time grantmaking process to fill urgent needs for education organizations that are well-aligned with their key target outcomes. They seek to fund highly impactful initiatives that would not be possible if they needed to wait through a traditional grant decision timeline.

After the NACCE Summit I attended on April 27th formally ended at 1:30 PM, I went on the optional tour of a nearby makerspace, the Urban Workshop in Costa Mesa. It is the largest makerspace I have visited in my travels around the country and is the largest makerspace in southern California.

“Urban workshop was born out of my engineering and manufacturing company called Automotive Technology Group Inc., which opened in 2001. Prior to the economic downturn, we were one of the top EV and hybrid vehicle engineering houses in the country doing advanced R&D for the large auto makers and smaller startups such as Fisker Automotive. We also did a small number of professional motorsports.

When the economy slowed, most of the engineering services and manufacturing dried up but the motorsport business swelled. The rich guys who were racing cars weren’t affected by the downturn of the economy so we did well. Around January 2013, I started doing STEM presentations to kids at local high schools and colleges to tell them about the race cars hoping to peak their interest in the sciences. I had heard about makerspaces and started asking some of the teachers their opinion about them. Jokingly, they started to introduce me as the guy who is opening “The Shop.”  I didn’t correct them, and before I knew it, people were showing up at ATG asking if this was “The Shop” and if it was open yet.

The Urban Workshop was founded by, and is privately owned by, Steve Trindade. During the tour, Steve told the story of how he started the makerspace, and later emailed me the following story:

“By January 2014, I had become very frustrated with the engineering services business due to customers not paying or going out of business leaving me holding the bag. Simultaneously, three to five people per week were stopping by to look for “The Shop.” That was when I decided to go for it. We wound down the projects we were working on, and signed a lease for a 5,500 square foot R&D space in May 2014.”

Steve said, “Our facility was basically built, painted, and set up by volunteers. People who walked in the front door and asked, is this “The Shop?”  I said, It’s Urban Workshop, but we aren’t open yet. Almost always they replied, can I help? I said yes, and put them to work.

In the end, we renovated the facility and got ready to open with nearly all volunteer help. Using all volunteer help, we set up the new facility and opened as Urban Workshop on July 2014. We had a similar experience with volunteer help when we moved into our current larger building in April 2015.

Since then, the business has grown significantly, and our membership is over 1,700. Our small business members do approximately $20M in annual revenue directly out of our facility, and collectively they have raised nearly $70M in angel and venture funding. In 2015, we added youth programing similar to the old school shop classes and now serve over 1,000 students age 10 to 16 years old annually.”

I was impressed by the kind of equipment and resources the Urban Workshop provides. It is a full-scale DIY workshop and makerspace meaning that it includes all aspects of engineering, prototyping and manufacturing equipment.  Steve said, “We have nearly $1M worth of equipment and because we used to be a professional services company, all of the equipment is current state of the art industry relevant equipment as opposed to the typical hobby level equipment you find in all other makerspaces. We teach classes on all the equipment and continue to add classes as fast as we can generate the course materials.

The equipment I saw on the tour included computers and software, large format plotters and printers, 3D printers, laser etchers, sheet metal fabrication equipment, manual and CNC machines, MIG and TIG welding, a vacuum forming machine, an autoclave, a silicone molding pressure pot, an extensive wood shop with a large CNC router, a composites fabrication shop, a vinyl cutter, sewing equipment, an electronics lab, and an auto shop with five auto lifts.

On their website, the following companies are listed as commercial partners/supporters:

  • Epilog Laser Etchers – Educational pricing on equipment and extended warranty support to Urban Workshop

When I asked what “Making” meant to him, he said, “In one word, opportunity. Opportunity for our members to learn new skills, open a new business, fix something, help others, learn a new skill, make a new friend, complete a personal project or who knows what. It has been very satisfying to watch people come in the shop with one idea and end up making five more things they never thought of before on equipment they have never used before with the help of someone they met at Urban Workshop.”

  • Haas CNC Machines Educational – pricing on equipment, extended warranty support, free computerized training and simulation station to Urban Workshop.
  • Autodesk HSMWorks – Free HSMWorks CNC programming software for members to use on site.
  • SolidWorks – Free engineering software for members to use on site.
  • Laguna Tools – Educational pricing on equipment, software and extended warranty support to Urban Workshop.
  • National Instruments – Free Virtual Bench all-in-one test equipment and LabView software for members to use on site.
  • Ingersoll-Rand – Educational discount on machine tooling and fixtures to Urban Workshop.·

Steve said, “The initial response to Urban Workshop was overwhelmingly positive, and the level of enthusiasm was incredible. The response continues to be great and the level of excitement and comradery continues to grow. Almost weekly a member comes to my office to thank me for opening the shop and enabling them to be able to make their dream project or start their new business. I knew this would be fun and satisfying, but I never imagined the extent that it would be so well received.”

One other observation he made is that whether you call it hacking, making, or tinkering, “the desire people have to use their hands is universal and fundamental. It is extremely satisfying to figure something out, address a problem or need one has or create something from scratch. I believe it has a therapeutic value and allows one to focus on something for a time without distraction. This is something that is unusual in these days of smart phones and social networking.”

In describing the projects his members are working on, he said, “They vary just as much as the members do. We have young professionals who are starting their own businesses all the way to the “burning man” crowd. It is impossible to nail it down and give a simple example. I have seen everything from ruggedized super tablets designed and manufactured in the shop to an Arduino controlled dog feeder and a talking Wi-Fi enabled Christmas tree. Urban Workshop’s membership is approximately 45% startups developing and manufacturing new products, 40% hobbyist, and 15% students. The hobbyists are the most diverse and work on home projects, vehicle restorations, boats, motorcycles, gifts, tons of wood working and cabinetry, arts and crafts, holiday decorations, cosplay, prop making, toys, and you name it.”

When I asked what his future plans are, he said, “Our long term the goal is to open additional locations. Currently, we are expanding our class offering to include many more project classes that will help guide people on the path of making. The youth program continues to grow, and additional levels will be added. Our most promising new product is the licensing of our operational procedures and class documentation to other makerspaces world-wide, providing operational training, and instructor training to enable them to prosper and help even more people.”

I’ve only visited one other makerspace about which I wrote, Vocademy in Riverside, that had a plan to expand to other locations, but its focus was on working with high schools to provide the career technical training that high schools used to provide.  With the depth and breadth of Steve’s business experience, he is more likely to succeed with his future plans than others.

DJ Khaled will get you there as the new voice on Waze

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DJ Khaled standing on a stage with a microphone in his hand

If it feels like DJ Khaled is everywhere in the transit world, that’s because he is. Popping up on Lyft scooters, ride-share driving undercover, and owning a ridiculous car collection, the hip-hop star is all about getting around. Now he’s helping you get where you’re going as a new navigation voice option in the Waze app.

Sure, his voice giving directions is part of a six-week promo with streaming music service Deezer for his new album. But that doesn’t mean you can’t embrace the advice-filled phrases the performer is known for. Waze, Google’s driving direction app, is used worldwide with 115 million users and has featured other celebrity voices for navigation such as Arnold Schwarzenegger, Kevin Hart, T-Pain, and Shaq. Bringing in known voices to give you driving directions is a feature that’s been incorporated into the app for years. A popular request was actor Morgan Freeman a few years ago.

One of the songs on his newest album Father of Asahd features singer John Legend, who is the latest voice option on Google’s digital assistant platform, Google Assistant. Legend’s AI voice launched last month.

Continue on to Mashablee to read the complete article.

How Concierge Parenting Services Can Help Prepare Kids for College

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student with exam paper and pencil taking a test

College admissions issues has been stealing the headlines. From the college admission scandal, where wealthy people allegedly paid to help their kids get accepted to high ranking colleges, to the talk of adding diversity scores to help boost some SAT/ACT tests, the news is filled with the challenges that those wanting to go to a good college may face.

Some parents are opting to take an approach that is more tailored to helping the child become prepared to excel and get into the college of their choice. This new approach, called concierge parenting services, aims to provide a customized plan to take the child to the next level, by identifying their fullest potential and capitalizing on it.

“Too often, the approaches taken in schools are failing students. Every child learns differently, so a cookie cutter approach just doesn’t work,” explains Reena B. Patel, a parenting expert, licensed educational psychologist, and author, who offers virtual workshops. “Through concierge parenting services, parents can learn exactly what their child needs to focus on in order to excel. The plan has been tailored to their unique child.”

Recently, Gallup suggested that education in the country takes the opposite approach of standardized tests, which students are being inundated with around the nation. What they suggest is that students need a test that is for them and about them, so that they become better at understanding and developing their own unique talents, which will help them succeed in school and life. This is the goal of concierge parenting, too.

Concierge parenting is service offered by Patel and other professionals in the field, in which they conduct extensive assessment on the child. Here are some of the ways that concierge parenting services can help prepare kids for college:

  • The assessments that are conducted show a child’s strengths, so that they can capitalize on them in order to reach their goals.
  • Parents receive a customized learning profile of their child, which will give insight as to how they best learn and optimize their strengths while developing areas of need. Parents can use that information to ensure that their educational needs are being addressed and how to take their child to the next level of growth.
  • Their learning profile includes such things as the child’s emotional resilience. This is important information, because it sheds light on how well the child will adapt to stressful situations or challenges. They can use the information to help the child learn more coping skills.
  • Parents receive the tools that they need in order to help their child navigate studying, taking tests, and applying for colleges. Rather than guessing how to best go about these things, the information has been tailored to the needs and styles of the individual.
  • Similar to a concierge in a hotel, parents get a tailored approach that is focused on meeting their needs and ensuring their child’s success. By taking advantage of a service like this, parents can learn their child’s strengths then nurture them and focus on excelling those strengths to be the best version of themselves.

“If you want to feel confident about your child’s education and future college acceptance, you can’t go wrong with taking a concierge parenting approach,” added Patel. “The purpose of concierge parenting is to help remove the stress, hurdles, and disappointment that may come later on. It helps your child to set out on their path with a detailed map to help them successfully get there.”

Patel offers several concierge parenting services packages, including being able to tailor a program to meet individual needs and goals. Two of her popular packages are titled Optimal Learning and New Parent. The Optimal Learning package offers a comprehensive assessment, customized report with specific tools to apply, follow up emails to ask questions, comprehensive evaluations to include, but not limited to, intelligence testing, academic testing, social and emotional readiness, and executive functioning testing. The New Parent package focuses on the idea that every baby and child is unique and has a different temperament. It’s ideal for new parents or a parent of a teen. Finding time to address challenges, such as behaviors, or how best to get your baby to sleep is hard. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a service customized just for your family and child? One that is effective and developed by a professional expert.

Each concierge parenting package includes initial consultation to identify concerns and goals, three session observation, modeling, and implementation of expert techniques, and one follow up virtual call after strategies are implemented.

In addition to offering concierge parenting services, Patel is the founder of AutiZm& More. As a licensed educational psychologist and guidance counselor, she helps children and their families with the use of positive behavior support strategies across home, school, and community settings. She does workshops around California, and virtual workshops globally where she provides this information to health professionals, families, and educators. She is also the author of a book that helps children with anxiety coping strategies called “Winnie & Her Worries,” and author of a book about autism awareness and acceptance, called “My Friend Max: A Story about a Friend with Autism.” Both of her books are available on Amazon. To learn more about her services, visit the website at reenabpatel.com.

About Reena B. Patel
Based in the San Diego area, Reena B. Patel (LEP, BCBA) is a renowned parenting expert, guidance counselor, licensed educational psychologist, and board-certified behavior analyst. For more than 20 years, Patel has had the privilege of working with families and children, supporting all aspects of education and positive wellness. She works extensively with developing children as well as children with exceptional needs, supporting their academic, behavioral and social development. She was recently nominated for San Diego Magazine’s “Woman of the Year.” To learn more about her books and services, visit the website at reenabpatel.com, and to get more parenting tips, follow her on Instagram @reenabpatel.

Gallup. It’s time to try the opposite of standardized testing. gallup.com/education/237284

The mouse of the future? Your eyeballs

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picture of person using their eyeball to control their mouse

By Katharine Schwab

Most of us control our technology using our fingers and hands, whether that’s through touch screens or a mouse. But for years, individuals with disabilities have used their eyes as a way to control digital interfaces.

Tablets like the Tobii Dynavox EyeMobile+ give people with cerebral palsy and other conditions the ability to use the internet, communicate, and even play games using just their eyes as a mouse.

Now, researchers are experimenting with ways to bring eye-tracking technology to general users. At the annual ACM Computer-Human Interaction (CHI) conference last week, scholars presented three new methods for able-bodied people to take advantage of a user interface that has mostly stayed within the realm of assistive technology. The experiments show how using your eyes as a tool to control a computer could make everyone more productive, not just people who are disabled. It’s an example of the power of inclusive design: When technologies are built to accommodate users who have disabilities, everyone else benefits, too.

Proofreading emails–or any other chunk of text–with just your eyes

One of the most annoying things about writing is typos: They’re inevitable, but they’re a pain to go back and fix. Academics at the University of Auckland and the University of Bath presented a research paper at CHI that proposes using your gaze to fix those pesky little mistakes and navigate a chunk of text. First, you look at the typo you want to fix (something you’re probably doing anyway). Then, you start typing. The program, called ReType, identifies the word you’re trying to change based on your gaze, and replaces it with whatever you type. Then, you just have to press enter to continue, enabling you to keep your hands on the keyboard as you continue to edit your mistakes. Your cursor then stays in the location you just edited, enabling you to insert or delete text there. It turns your eyeballs into a mouse.

The study included a variety of keyboard users, some of whom had used gaze-tracking technology before, and the researchers showed that the method was able to match and sometimes beat the speed of using a mouse. Plus, users liked it: “We were very pleased to hear from a number of users that they expect ReType to be helpful in addressing and preventing repetitive strain injury,” Gerald Weber, a computer science lecturer at the University of Auckland in New Zealand, tells Fast Company via email, referring to the musculoskeletal damage that’s caused by small repetitive tasks like clicking, typing, and using a mouse. Currently, Retype is just a prototype, but the research team has patented it and wants to turn it into a product.

Navigating through code without ever using a mouse

Studies have found that developers spend about 35% of their time navigating through their code while they’re working. When they’re debugging, they spend about 50% of their time looking for information–something that slows them down considerably.

Using eye tracking to communicate with colleagues

As more people work remotely, collaboration across distance can be difficult. But a study from researchers at Pomona College that was presented at CHI shows how eye tracking could act as a collaborative tool. The researchers focused on the challenges of collaborating on a piece of writing while working in different places, something that has become common with the popularity of tools like Google Docs. They conducted a study with 20 pairs of academics, each of whom had an eye-tracking device at the bottom of their screen that showed their collaborator where they were looking within a digital text editor. After completing writing tasks where they did and did not have access to the location of the other person’s gaze, the study participants reported more mutual understanding, higher joint attention, greater flow of communication, and increased awareness of what their co-author was doing when they could see where their partner was looking. (The eye-tracking technology only shows up within the text editor, so collaborators wouldn’t be able to spy on each other’s eye movements outside of that context.)

Continue on to Fast Company to read the complete article.

7 Tips to Help Mentally Overcome an Employment Gap

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Woman working on her resume attached to a clipboard

Here’s advice on overcoming the mental roadblocks employment gaps create before they sabotage your job search, from those who’ve been there.

William Childs loves his new job. He is Marketing Director at Kitchen Magic, a growing national kitchen remodeling and cabinet refacing company. “This job is a creative person’s dream. The product, the people, the collaborative ideas we are generating, it’s totally amazing,” Childs says. “This is what I spent my 14-month employment gap searching for, and I am so glad I didn’t give up on my career goals.”

Employment gaps do not define you

According to a recent Randstad U.S. study, the average job search today takes about five months. When Childs was laid off late in 2017 from an executive-level marketing job, he did not anticipate a longer-than-average employment gap. He explained: “When my old job was eliminated, it was the first time in many years that I had no specific job to go to next. I had always benefited from people just knowing me and my work, so starting from scratch while unemployed felt pretty weird.” When a few leads at the beginning of his job search didn’t materialize, he felt a bit demoralized.

According to a 2019 Monster survey, 59 percent of Americans have had an unexpected gap in their career. For a lot of people looking for jobs with a gap on their resume, there can be internalized feelings of shame, says Michael “Dr. Woody” Woodward, Ph.D., organizational psychologist, CEC-certified executive coach, and author of “The YOU Plan.” “Shame puts on a lot of added pressure to an already stressful time, which can lead to obsession,” Dr. Woody explains. “Don’t victimize yourself over a lost job or a failure in the past. It can be debilitating.” He advises readers to recognize their setback as just that, a setback — then deal with it and move on to better things.

Childs did keep moving forward. He designed an online portfolio and kept adding to it during his hiatus by taking on freelance work. He wrote for an online magazine and volunteered his talents to local non-profit groups. A year into his search, he took an advertising sales job as he continued to apply for positions. “The sales job was what I needed to do financially, and what I needed to do for my own piece of mind,” he reflects. “I was earning income, learning, and connecting with people. It helped me a lot.”

While he did not give up on finding an innovative executive marketing position, Childs needed ways to stay focused and positive on his continued career search. When it comes to overcoming the mental roadblocks employment gaps create, the following advice can help keep you more focused, motivated, and confident.

1. Honesty really is the best policy

Susan is happily employed in Reno, Nevada at The Slumber Yard, a specialty online clearinghouse of reviews, comparisons, and deals for mattresses and bedding products. Prior to taking the job last year, this mattress review specialist (whose name has been changed for this piece) had left the workforce to care for her young son after he was injured in a serious accident. When she was ready to re-enter the workforce, Susan crafted a very targeted resume and cover letter that succinctly addressed her employment gap. Still, the two-year pause in her career had her a little nervous. “I wasn’t exactly sure what the job market would be like for me,” she remembers.

“Her resume had everything we were looking for, and when she told me why she had a gap in her employment history, her honesty really impressed me,” says Matthew Ross, The Slumber Yard’s Co-Founder and COO. Ross immediately called Susan in for an interview. “Her experience and knowledge of our industry are what got her the job. But, the way that she explained her employment gap really showed her character, both as a person and as a professional.”

You can explain your employment gap without oversharing, says Dick Lively, Partner and HR Consulting Director at RAI Resources in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. “On a resume or in a cover letter, saying you took time to care for a family member who was ill or that you relocated across the country for your spouse’s job should be enough detail. Keep it professional but not too personal,” he says. It is also OK to exclude a gap explanation from the resume altogether, so long as you are prepared to address it during the interview if you are asked. Just don’t make something up. “At the end of the day, the truth always comes out, explains Lively. “You don’t want to face a potential employer or a new boss and try to explain why you lied.”

2. Don’t stop networking

Your first instinct may be to hide away until you have a new job, but that will not help your efforts. In fact, it might even hurt them. Keeping your name and face out there can help you get an introduction to a hiring manager. Plus, it’s great practice for interviews. “For me, I talked about the creative process and exchanged ideas; it helped me formulate how to best present myself as a job candidate,” says Childs.

Lively suggests that you don’t wait too long after your last job ends to start networking: “It is not only important to get your name out there and to hear about jobs that may be coming up through the grapevine,” he explains. “You also need to talk shop and connect with people. The longer you wait, the less confident you may feel. Interpersonal skills need to be kept sharp, just like any other skill.” That said, it is OK to take a few days or even a couple of weeks after your last job ends to regain your composure before you start networking. The last thing you want to do is get emotional about your job loss in front of your professional connections.

3. Expand your network

As valuable as your tried-and-true network of professional connections is, Dr. Woody cautions that you shouldn’t always drink from the same well when you are trying to find a new job. “Always networking with the same group of people can put blinders on your job search or create an echo chamber where you keep repeating the same steps that aren’t working anymore.”

Expanding his network definitely helped Childs. “Learning about new businesses and how they do things and connecting with new people is very inspiring,” he says. Telling new people a bit about yourself helps remind you about your talents and experience. You don’t know what else is out there if you don’t ever mix things up.

4. Own your truth

“You can, and should, use a positive spin when talking about your experiences,” says Childs. During an interview or a phone screening, don’t try to hide what caused your employment gap. Don’t complain or point fingers either. Tell your story concisely and truthfully, ending with what you learned or what you have gained since. When Childs interviewed with his new employer, he was prepared to lay his cards on the table when the question came up about his resume gap. His honest, three-sentence elevator speech consisted of:

  1. I was laid off when my department was eliminated.
  2. I am now doing advertising sales. It’s not me, but it’s a job, and I am proud of the quality of work I do.
  3. I have learned a lot about customer service through this sales experience, and I can apply that knowledge to my next marketing and creative position.

Dr. Woody believes this kind of planning is invaluable: “Preparation builds confidence. Working on your narrative reminds you that you have talent and have a lot to offer an employer. Taking time to boil it down to a concise summary instills it in your mind. This is who you are.”

5. Keep up a motivating routine

For years, Childs has emailed daily “Thought Bombs” to colleagues and friends. These are quotes he has collected on creativity, inspiration, and business integrity. Throughout his 14-month job search, he committed himself to continuing this morning ritual. “It got me up and thinking, ready for the day,” he says. “On my worst days, I would tell myself, ‘All I gotta do is get out of bed and deliver the Thought Bomb,’ and it really helped me get moving.”

“I really love this,” says Dr. Woody. “He used this routine to get himself into the right mindset each day. He had a purpose that was of value to his mailing list, and the discipline it took to do this daily task set his whole day in positive motion.” For other people, the routine could be mediation, exercise, journaling, or some other daily ritual.

6. Concentrate on the connection

Childs kept himself well-versed in the current ideas and trends in his field. His knowledge and passion for his work inevitably crept into his cover letters and interviews. “People are much more engaged with stories that are filled with excitement, passion, and personality,” says Childs. “Bragging and standard-issue talking points get stale quickly, but if you can connect with someone about what truly motivates and inspires you, they won’t forget you.”

Coming across as arrogant or whiny is a red flag for employers, notes Dr. Woody. But sharing insights and understanding about your field is a way to help them envision working with you. It also helps them put your employment gap into perspective in relation to your qualifications and talent. He explains: “People remember more about how you made them feel than about the specifics of what you said.”

Continue on to Top Resume to read the complete article.

Facebook VP says this is an immediate ‘red flag’ in a job interview

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Julie Zhuo VP of Facebook poses seated on couch wearing an off white sweater and a mustard colored scarf

Julie Zhuo is the VP of product design at Facebook. After graduating from Stanford University in 2006, she joined the social media giant as an intern and quickly worked her way up to becoming a manager at 25.

In her 13 years at Facebook, she has interviewed many recent graduates eager to score an internship or entry-level position and says no matter how qualified an applicant is, there is still one interview mistake she’ll always see as a warning sign.

“I would say one red flag when you’re interviewing is to be too focused on status or prestige,” the author of “The Making of a Manager ” tells CNBC Make It.

Facebook is still considered one of the most attractive employers today, and Zhuo says she’s seen her fair share of candidates who only want to land a job at the company because “it seems like the right thing to do, or it’s the next step up for [their] career.”

Rather than hiring someone who only wants to add a prestigious name to their resume, Zhuo says she focuses her attention on the applicants who are interested in making a difference at the company. She says she looks for candidates who are ready to “come in and just do a really, really great job.”

She wants employees who’ll “continue to learn and grow,” she says, “and do what you know is going to help the team the most.”

Zhuo emphasizes that although experience and unique skill sets may help you land an interview at Facebook, they aren’t a top priority for her because “a lot of times people are still in the learning phase and that’s great. That’s OK.”

“What I really look for are people who love to learn and who approach the job with a sense of curiosity and productivity, and who are just really eager to do great work,” she says. “I think that enthusiasm really comes across in an interview, especially in the questions that someone asks and in their tone and body language when interacting with me.”

Zhuo, who is a firm believer that interviews should be a two-way street, adds, “I love it when [candidates] ask me a lot of questions about my team, the environment and the culture that we work in.”

Continue on to CNBC News to read the complete article.

Becoming An Influential Female Leader In Technology

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Professional woman working at desk with laptop

By Spandana Govindgari

The time is now ripe for breaking into technology as a woman. For the past 20 years or so, looking up to role models often meant emulating male leaders like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg.

As a woman of color and a software engineer, I found myself in situations where I had nobody who looked like me among the tech leadership. As a result, I doubted my capabilities, skills and confidence.

This is when I first came across the Grace Hopper Conference. I was lucky and fortunate enough to receive a scholarship to attend the conference for free as a student. For any woman interested in software engineering now, the GHC is the go-to place for getting inspired, finding jobs and life-long mentors — along with similar conferences like the NCWIT Summit on Women and IT and the Girlboss Rally. After I met so many amazing women like me at the conference, I returned to my job feeling much more empowered to make changes to our recruiting pipeline to hire more female engineers.

Flash forward to today, and there are more women stepping up to become mentors, many women taking leadership roles to become role models for the future generations, and groups on social media are connecting women everywhere and helping them feel inspired and empowered to break into technology. I’ve noticed more and more workplaces are starting to recognize women in prominent leadership roles by offering them opportunities to mentor and enabling tough conversations about diversity and inclusion to take place at work.

It is truly the right time to be a part of this movement. As a female software engineer and rising entrepreneur, I would like to share some tips for women trying to break into the field of software engineering and ways to thrive at work by challenging the status quo.

Help People Without Any Expectations
You get what you give. Consider the skills or knowledge you currently possess in a specific area — for example, databases, bots, Java, Python and so on. You could share this knowledge through free courses on Youtube or Udemy. There are various resource groups on entrepreneurship, engineering, and design. One of the most famous is the Hackathon Hackers group on Facebook, and another popular one is Ladies Storm Hackathons. Consider joining a group and helping college students who need assistance with making career choices or advice on obtaining internships and jobs, or people looking for co-founders on a project.

Continue on to Forbes to read the complete article.

Out to Innovate™ 2019 Summit for LGBTQ People in STEM

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NOGLSTP presented its 5th biannual Out to Innovate™ Summit for LGBTIQ People in STEM on March 16-17 at the location of its first summit, the campus of the University of Southern California (USC) in Los Angeles, CA. 

These summits are meant to support and encourage the open participation of the LGBTIQ community in STEM activities. With this year’s theme, “Igniting STEM with PRIDE,” over 200 attendees participated in 20 workshops and 4 plenaries, increasing skill sets, broadening their knowledge, and making new friends.

Early arriving attendees attended a tour of the USC Institute for Creative Technologies (ICT) and in the evening NOGLSTP hosted a reception for workshop organizers, panelists, and exhibitors at the ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives at the USC Libraries where the NOGLSTP history and files reside and were on partial display.

The meeting opened with proclamations and greeting from the region, followed by Kei Koizumi, Visiting Scholar in science policy at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), gave an inspiring motivational speech, reminding everyone to pursue their dreams in STEM as LGBTQ people

Over the following day and a half, attendees participated in 4 breakout sessions containing 20 workshops covered a wide range of topics; titles from “Proposal Writing Workshop: Understanding the Federal Money Process,” and “Careers in Government and Policy for LGBTQ STEM people,” to “Out on the Academic Job Search,” “Forming Student Groups: Experiences and Organizing”, “a LGBTQ+ Health Initiatives”, “Queer in STEM Demographic Studies”, ”LGTQ Portrayal in Arts and Media” and “Intersectionality – Bringing All of Your Identities,” provided learning and discussion opportunities over a broad spectrum of issues and ideas.

Plenaries included an “Out and Accomplished panel”, where “out” panel members provided their perspectives on serving in industry, government, and academia. Saturday evening’s Gala Recognition Awards Reception and Dinner was held at the USC Town and Gown hall with keynote speaker David Bohnett, founder of GeoCities who spoke of his journey, from being a closeted undergraduate student at USC, the early days of the World Wide Web and founding GeoCities.  2017 and 1028 Out to Innovate™ Scholarship recipients (funded by Motorola Solutions Foundation), and poster session winners were honored at the dinner as well as 2019 Recognition Awardees: presented the 2019 Recognition Award Winners: Dr Benny Chan, Professor of Chemistry at the College of New Jersey (LGBTQ Educator of the year), Dr Arianna Morales, Staff Research Scientist at General Motors Global research and Development (LGBTQ Engineer of the year), and Dr Jon Freeman, Associate professor of Psychology and Neural Science New York University (LGBTQ Scientist of the Year).  This year’s Walt Westman Award went to Dr. Lauren Esposito, Curator at California Academy of Sciences and creator of 500 Queer Scientists website.

Amazon’s VP of Alexa Devices on Working in Voice Technology, Taking Risks, and Alexa’s Hidden Tricks

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Amazom's Miriam Daniel smiling and standing in front of a poster for Amazon Alexa

By Alyse Kalish

Let’s say you want to be a part of building something great in your career—something people can tangibly benefit from, something no one else has thought of, and something you can point to and proudly say, “Hey, I made that.” If that’s the case, look no further for inspiration than Miriam Daniel.

She’s currently the VP of Alexa and Echo Devices at Amazon. That means she and her team are the brains behind the imaginary woman who answers all the random requests you make, from “Alexa, tell me what the weather’s like” to “Alexa, set a reminder to pick up milk” to “Alexa, play ‘Baby Shark.’”

We sat down with Daniel because, quite frankly, her career path is pretty cool—from working as a developer to joining the leadership team at Intel (and staying on for more than 14 years) to transitioning into AI and eventually landing her role at Amazon. Besides joining Amazon at a time when AI and speech technology was just taking off, Daniel has had the pleasure of building a product from the start that can help people—especially those who are disabled—lead more efficient and happier lives.

Here’s how she broke into this creative field, how she balances being a tech leader and a parent, and what advice she has for aspiring innovators.

Tell us a bit about your career path and how you ended up at Amazon.

I spent the first few years of my career working as a developer in various service industries, and then moved on to work at Intel for more than 14 years. I started there as an engineering leader before transitioning to product and business roles, eventually becoming the Director of Innovation Strategy and Product Management.

Then five years ago, I received a call from Amazon. After going through a rigorous interview process and consulting with a couple of my mentors, I decided to make the move. Today, I lead a talented, multidisciplinary team that spends a lot of time thinking about customers—what they want out of voice-driven devices and specifically how Alexa can make their lives easier and more convenient.

What made you want to enter this field?

I started dabbling in speech and AI while running the innovation group at Intel. The power of voice as an intuitive and natural means of human interaction with technology fascinated me. When presented with the opportunity to lead the Echo product line at Amazon, I jumped at it, knowing that this could be a transformative leap in using voice as the ultimate simplifier, cutting through many layers of friction to access information and services in the cloud. I was also excited to be a part of an early-stage innovative product with the ability to shape it from the start. I was ready for a big challenge.

What gets you excited about your job?

I’m excited by the fact that I get to innovate every day. Sometimes I feel like a kid in a toy factory—I dive right into putting the puzzle pieces together to solve hard problems that in the end simplify lives.

Building an entirely new way of interacting with products through voice and visuals was an incredibly difficult problem to solve. When we started, this was a completely new means of interacting with machines, and to see how far we’ve come (of course, there’s still so much more to do) motivates me every day.

What’s the biggest challenge in your role? The biggest reward?

The challenge is that building an Echo device is about so much more than just creating a piece of hardware—it’s about designing an experience, and it’s an experience that’s getting smarter every day. There’s no playbook here or precedent to go off of—we’re exploring and innovating as we go. There’s no such thing as “done.”

The biggest reward is when a customer tells me that they love the products we’re building and how much voice technology has changed their lives for the better. We hear anecdotes from parents, grandparents, teachers, distant family members, and customers with disabilities all the time, and their stories are truly heart-warming.

What’s one thing people don’t know Alexa can do?

Alexa is always getting smarter and is now starting to do things for customers that once were considered science fiction. One example is a feature called “Hunches.” As you interact with your smart home, Alexa learns more about your day-to-day routine and can sense when connected smart devices—such as lights, locks, switches, and plugs—are not in the state that you prefer.

For example, if your living room light is on when you say “Alexa, good night,” Alexa will respond with “Good night. By the way, your living room light is on. Do you want me to turn it off?”

Continue on to The Muse to read the complete article.