How technology is changing the face of retail

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Group of women shopping

The concept of “retail tech” might bring to mind a Jetsons-like shopping experience of glowing screens, biometric scanners, and robotic personal assistants. But the reality is more along the lines of traffic-tracking sensors, radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags, handheld scanners, and heat maps, all technology designed to provide a real-time snapshot of how the modern consumer is shopping. This wealth of data unlocks an understanding of the in-store customer journey that’s deeper and more insightful than ever, and retailers that can successfully leverage this information are the ones that will thrive.

Still, none of this technological wizardry matters if retailers don’t get the basics right. “We have all of these [great] technologies,” says Bjoern Petersen, president of Sensormatic Solutions, the global leader in enabling smart and connected shopper engagement. “But the No. 1 rule is: Don’t destroy the shopping experience.”

For Petersen, that starts with inventory accuracy, which is essential to getting shoppers to come back. “If I am coming in to buy or pick up something and it’s not there, that’s a terrible experience,” he says. “Yet almost all retailers have issues with inventory.”

RFID eliminates manual inventorying by electronically accounting for items packed inside shipping cartons, which are scanned upon arrival. Here’s how yoga-workout outfitter Lululemon puts the RFID-based TrueVUE technology to work: When a customer pays for a shirt, it triggers software that calls for a replacement to be pulled from the store’s back room. If the item is in stock, it will quickly appear on the floor.

“That’s a great customer experience,” Petersen says. “And the retailer can sell down to the last unit at full price because they know where every item is. If you don’t have that kind of deep visibility, you end up doing unnecessary markdowns—and when your store is full of racks of discounted items, the feel is very different.”

Not every retailer leverages RFID or other technology to create this deep inventory knowledge. Petersen says those brands will fall behind, particularly with services like Buy Online, Pickup In Store (BOPIS) on the rise. Petersen points out that more than 10% of BOPIS items are unavailable when customers arrive to pick them up, leading to order cancellation. “The percentage is unnecessarily high,” he says.

ACHIEVING A SEAMLESS SHOPPING EXPERIENCE

Almost all retailers try to optimize costs, often through labor. But Petersen warns that cutting too much here runs the risk of losing the “all-important customer experience.” No shopper wants to wander the aisles in search of assistance, though retailers don’t want to pay for associates to stand around during slow periods.

So how does one staff the right amount of sales associates at the right time? The answer lies in technology that analyzes foot traffic, tracks transactions, and optimizes the ratio of staffers serving customers compared to those conducting replenishment tasks.

Continue on to Fast Company to read the complete article.

Rapper Residente partners with scientists to create music with brain patterns

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Rapper Residente sitting on couch dresed in black and baseball cap

Grammy-winning rapper Residente has some new collaborators on his upcoming album: scientists. The Puerto Rican performer said he studied intensely with professors at Yale University and New York University to read brain patterns in worms, mice, monkeys, fruit flies and even hitmaker Bad Bunny to create his second solo project.

“(The album is) going to be about everything that I have inside of my head … because of that I kept brainstorming and I said, ‘Oh I have to study my brain, and then I have to study other people’s brains, and then I have to study animals’ brains,'” he said.

Daniel Alfonso Colón-Ramos, an associate professor of neuroscience at Yale, said Residente spent days at the school doing research.

“We were joking that we should give him a diploma,” said Colón-Ramos.

On campus, they used electroencephalogram (EEG) tests on worms to track and record brain wave patterns.

“Without harming the animals we can actually see as the animal is thinking, as it’s moving, as it’s exploring its environment, we can see individual cells talking into each other. It turns out when these cells, when these neurons talk to each other they’re using rhythms to communicate — we call it rhythms of activity. But, at the end of the day, those rhythms can be turned into music,” Colón-Ramos said.

The untitled album will be released in November. Residente, born René Juan Pérez Joglar, worked with Suzanne Dikker, a senior research scientist in NYU’s Department of Psychology, to use EEG tests on himself and Bad Bunny to produce the album’s first single, “Bellacoso.”

Continue on to NBC News to read the complete article.

CBS Saturday Morning Debuts “Mission Unstoppable,” a New Weekly Series Executive Produced by Geena Davis and Miranda Cosgrove Who Also Serves as Host

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Miranda Cosgrove poses for Mission Unstoppable poster

CBS announced today that new series Mission Unstoppable, featuring female STEM superstars, is joining the Saturday morning block “The CBS Dream Team, It’s Epic!,” which returns for its seventh season Saturday, Sept. 28th (9:00-12:00 ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network.

Each week, host and Executive Producer Miranda Cosgrove (iCarly) and an all-female leadership team showcase women on the cutting edge of science – including zoologists, engineers, astronauts, codebreakers, and oceanographers. Viewers will be inspired by female STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) superstars in leading fields including social media, entertainment, animals, design, and the internet – all categories key to the teen experience.

“Girls need to see themselves on and off the screen as STEM professionals, and as I always say, ‘If they can see it, they can be it.’ This new series strives to empower young women and showcase the many ways they can impact the world through careers in STEM.”

Academy-Award winning actor and advocate Geena Davis serves as co-executive producer of the series, bringing her passion for creating change in the portrayal of strong female characters in entertainment and media that positively influences young viewers.

“Strong female role models are essential to breaking down barriers and educating the next generation of leaders about gender equality,” said Geena Davis, Executive Producer, Mission Unstoppable. “Girls need to see themselves on and off the screen as STEM professionals, and as I always say, ‘If they can see it, they can be it.’ This new series strives to empower young women and showcase the many ways they can impact the world through careers in STEM.”

Serving as Showrunner is Anna Wenger, four-time Emmy-nominated producer for Billy on The Street, Between Two Ferns, and Sarah Silverman: We Are Miracles. Wenger’s expertise in narrative television and sketch comedy television series will provide Mission Unstoppable with its core intent to bring fun and science to life for young viewers.

Continue on to Businesswire to read the complete article.

Mexican Scientist Creates Biodegradable Plastic Straw From Cactus

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Sandra Ortiz stands in kitchen behind table filled with vaiations of her new plastic

Researchers from the University of Valle de Atemajac in Zapopan, Mexico have created a biodegradable plastic from the juice of the prickly pear cactus.

The new material begins to break down after sitting in the soil for a month and when left in water, it breaks down in a matter of days. Plus, it doesn’t require crude oil like traditional plastics.

“There were some publications that spoke of different materials with which biodegradable plastics could be made, including some plants,” Sandra Pascoe Ortiz, the research professor who developed the material, told Forbes.

“In this case the nopal cactus has certain chemical characteristics with which I thought it could be feasible to obtain a polymer, that if it was combined with some other substances, all of them natural, a non-toxic biodegradable plastic would be obtained. The process is a mixture of compounds whose base is the nopal. It’s totally non-toxic, all the materials we use could be ingested both by animals or humans and they wouldn’t cause any harm.”

This means that even if any of this material made its way into the ocean, it will safely dissolve. It’s estimated that between 1.15 million to 2.41 million tonnes of plastic are entering the ocean each year from rivers. Last month, divers found a plastic KFC bag from the 1970s during an ocean clean-up off the waters off Bulcock Beach in Queensland, Australia and earlier this year, during a dive to the bottom of the Mariana Trench – the deepest point in the ocean – a plastic bag was found.

According to Ortiz, the project was born in a science Fair of the The nopal cactus sitting on table with blender in the backgroundDepartment of Exact Sciences and Engineering, in the chemistry class with industrial engineering students of the career. They began to make some attempts to obtain a plastic using cactus as raw material.

“From that I decided to start a research project in a formal way. Currently in the project collaborate researchers from the University of Guadalajara in conjunction with the University of Valle de Atemajac.”

Continue on to Forbes to read the complete article.

Luis “Danny” Bathen of HENAAC: Becoming a Successful Engineer

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Luis "Danny" Bathen headshot

Being an engineer is like being that curious cat. The curious cat knows his or her curiosity may be the end of him or her, but he or she still needs to know how something works.

Without knowing how something works, we may not be able fix it, improve it, or simply innovate a new solution that makes that thing we think is cool obsolete.

Engineers built irrigation systems, engineers built castles, engineers got man to space, engineers built the world-wide web. Engineers are the reason we can see our loved ones across the sea in real time.

Engineers are the reason we can take selfies on a plane—flying across the sea, sharing them with millions of people while sipping our favorite drink thousands of feet up in the sky.

I became an engineer because I am a curious cat—I need to know how something works. I need to know how to build things from scratch. I need to know how to build more efficient things that will make my life and the life of people I care for easier. Being an engineer is rewarding, and also demanding.

It requires a lot of hard work. The cliché of “hard work pays” is indeed true, but to be a good engineer, you need to not only “work hard” but also “work smart.” Working smarter and more efficiently will help you complete tasks much faster. If I can write a computer program to automate a task that will help me work faster, I will. If I can build an Artificial Intelligence system that can automate most of my tasks, it will free my time to do more pressing matters. Artificial Intelligence is a hot and controversial topic today; there is a lot of excitement and fear. I am personally excited about it, because Artificial Intelligence is here to stay, it is in our future, and my job as an engineer is to make sure I help engineers and Artificial Intelligence, which will be good for me, my kids, and humanity.

In short, being an engineer is like being a curious cat who will work hard and work smart to make sure the next innovation he or she builds is an innovation for good rather than an innovation that may cause his or her doom.

How do we become good and successful engineers? Well, for starters, we must persevere.

Perseverance is perhaps one of the best traits to have. As engineers, we will fail—we will fail many times. It is not about failing—failure is inevitable—it is about how we deal with failure. The old “fail fast, recover fast” saying is true. We want to be able to fail, learn, and resume our work. Some days will feel like there is no solution, so we need to take a breather, sleep on it, and get back at it the next day. When we try different approaches and learn from our failures, we are bound to find a solution, or at least a partial solution that will help us move along.

Complacency is our enemy. As an engineer, we cannot, and should not, fall into the trap of complacency with our everyday tasks. As an engineer, if you reach a point where you stop trying to improve things, you are not being a good engineer. A good and successful engineer will look at better ways of doing things, improving on existing processes, and innovating.

Finally, to become a successful engineer, you must have a strong and positive attitude. You must not keep quiet when you see something is not quite right, when you feel something will not work, or something may endanger yourself or others. You must be strong and accept criticism— take it as an opportunity to learn rather than take it personally. We have all been criticized at some point in our lives for our work. Criticism is an opportunity to come back stronger and show that we can improve our work. However, do not let criticism get you down. And always give good feedback and positive criticism, because like you, others will also need that opportunity to learn from their mistakes. Be proactive, help when you can, and ask for help when you need it. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Some people say to let our work speak for us, this is true, but you must also be your own marketing department. Good engineers will do great work, as good or better than yours. It is your responsibility to showcase your work, push your work, and market your work, so that others appreciate it and it does not fall on deaf ears. Yes, good work speaks volumes, but there is nothing wrong with adding amplifiers.

So, be a curious cat, be an innovator, be a creator, persevere, never be complacent, and have a great attitude. Don’t just be an engineer, be an awesome engineer!

Luis “Danny” Bathen was awarded HENAAC’s 2018 Most Promising Engineer Advanced Degree – Ph.D.

Yes, tech companies may listen when you talk to your virtual assistant. Here’s why that’s not likely to stop

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alexa machine sitting on a counter

Big tech companies don’t like to talk about it. And when users find out it’s happening, they’re often surprised — and disturbed. Yes, if you talk to a virtual assistant, such as Amazon’s Alexa, a human may listen to a recording of your chatter.

Recent reports have highlighted what is actually a longstanding practice meant largely to improve the artificial intelligence that underpins the virtual assistant-powered gadgets and services that are popping up throughout people’s homes and lives.

The practice raises privacy concerns for smart-speaker users in particular, who might have known that Amazon, Google, and Apple create recordings each time you speak to Alexa, Google Assistant, and Siri, respectively, but not that people might review them.

The companies have said only a small percentage of recordings are listened to by humans. Still, Google and Apple have temporarily halted human reviews of their recordings, while Amazon recently changed its settings to make it easier for people to avoid such review at all.

Last week, Facebook said it, too, had paused human review of some users’ audio clips, such as those sent as audio messages via the social network’s Messenger app. Facebook had been using humans to listen in, as part of an AI-transcription feature.

Lost in the shuffle of these revelations is whether people are truly needed to make these AI-dependent systems work, and how much companies should tell users about this process.

Continue on to CNN to read the complete article.

Being Intentional: Convening in a World with Too Many Conferences

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group of people from The Arc Network gathered around conference table

By: Rochelle L. Williams, PhD, ARC Network Project Director, AWIS

The ARC Network, an initiative of the Association for Women in Science (AWIS), elevates thought leadership on the successes and challenges to realizing equity in STEM. Since 2009, AWIS has worked with the National Science Foundation (NSF) to convene ADVANCE institutions and NSF Gender in Science and Engineering (GSE) program to discuss synthesizing quantitative and qualitative approaches affecting gender composition and representation in STEM education workplaces.

By combining AWIS’ convening power and the ARC Network’s mission to advance equity in STEM, we’ve sought to create community, not another conference that promises a magical solution to research problems.

The 2019 Equity in STEM Community Convening builds on the momentum of the NSF ADVANCE/GSE Workshops, while simultaneously curating an experience that embodies a culture of innovation and inclusion. Traditional meeting features (i.e., poster sessions, networking coffee breaks and interactive breakout sessions) are infused with components that amplify, revolutionize and cultivate a community of researchers and practitioners.

Amplify.

To increase the reach and visibility of proven strategies that promote equity in STEM, additional avenues for authentic storytelling have been incorporated into this year’s programming. To start, presenters will stretch themselves by submitting visual abstracts, visual summaries of their presentations instead of the traditional text-based abstract. Shifting to visual abstracts allows easy distribution of their work within the ARC Network and with external audiences using social media. In addition to having prominent keynote speakers and poster showcase, the Equity in STEM Community Convening will also feature Lightning Talks during the networking reception. The Lightning Talks will challenge presenters to outline the highlights of their work and explain its importance within five minutes.

Revolutionize.

The Equity in STEM Community Convening will highlight high-quality research and works-in-progress that have potential to advance and transform STEM workplaces. The Early-Stage Innovations sessions will support new researchers and practitioners looking to share the initial phase of their work or seeking feedback from the community. Experience Reports, sessions dedicated to those on the frontline of change, are designed for well-developed and/or later-stage initiatives or research.

We’ve also introduced a new priority area, ADVANCE to Market. Presentations will center on research, programs, and practices that discuss academic STEM entrepreneurship and commercialization, including social equity issues and taking diversity and inclusion research and resources to market.

Cultivate.

Advancing equity in STEM requires an intentional focus on creating authentic, sustainable and inclusive environments while simultaneously cultivating a community that collaborates, shares and implements promising practices and tools shown to affect change. Presenter-designed Symposia and Workshops are meant to give participants the time to reflect and create, both individually and with others. The informal setting of the Networking Breaks make way for relaxed exchanges that are crucial for the learning process.

In a world with too many conferences, too many broken promises and not enough time, you’ll leave the convening inspired to take your work to the next level and, more importantly, knowing there’s a community ready to support you in your efforts toward #EquityinSTEM.

Building and Gathering a Community

Join the ARC Network Community! This AWIS initiative connects scholars and practitioners committed to equity in STEM at no cost. In collaboration with Mendeley, the ARC Network hosts a dedicated online group for members to access and contribute to a rich library of curated resources – including reports, articles, datasets, toolkits, videos and more – that serve as an important part of systemic change efforts. As the go-to hub for community collaboration, the platform also offers members the opportunity to share events hosted by the community and their institutions as well as online learning opportunities, such as webinars and virtual workshops. There is no cost to register. AWIS Membership not required.

Equity in STEM “First Look.” Published on SSRN, this quarterly digest allows peers to share a wide range of STEM equity content and early stage research, empowering the community with early access to the tools and knowledge needed for change. The inaugural publication provides a historical perspective of the NSF ADVANCE program and outcomes of and lessons learned from past awardees.

Dr Rochelle L Williams standing outside with buildings in the backgroundRochelle L. Williams, PhD, is Project Director for the ADVANCE Resource Coordination (ARC) Network for AWIS. The ARC Network has a primary focus on organizational and institutional systemic change from both the research and practical perspectives. Before joining AWIS, Dr. Williams served as Research Scientist in the Office for Academic Affairs at Prairie View A&M University. Since 2012, Dr. Williams has worked as a subject-matter expert for the National Science Foundation on issues about cultures of inclusion, broadening participation, and university education programs. Dr. Williams received a Bachelor of Science in Physics from Spelman College and both a Master of Engineering in Mechanical Engineering and Doctorate in Science and Mathematics Education from Southern University and A&M College.

AWIS is a global network with 80 grassroots chapters and affiliates connecting more than 100,000 professionals in STEM with members, allies and supporters worldwide. Founded in 1971, AWIS has been the leading advocate for women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) to achieve business growth, social change, and innovation. We are dedicated to driving excellence in STEM by achieving equity and full participation of women in all disciplines and across all employment sectors.

Funded by the National Science Foundation ADVANCE Program, Award HRD-1740860, the ADVANCE Resource and Coordination (ARC) Network seeks to achieve gender equity for faculty in higher education science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines. As the STEM equity brain trust, the ARC Network recognizes the achievements made so far while producing new perspectives, methods and interventions with an intersectional, intentional and inclusive lens. AWIS serves as the backbone organization of the ARC Network.

Appliance Standards Create Jobs in Every U.S. State

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lightbulb hovering over a field of grass

National standards that require appliances and equipment to be more energy efficient do more than save energy and reduce utility bills. They also spur economic growth and create jobs—a lot of jobs. In fact, a report by The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy reveals that they created or sustained nearly 300,000 jobs in 2016 and are projected to support 553,000 jobs in 2030. These jobs benefit every U.S. state.

Here’s how: When consumers and businesses take the money they have saved on energy and water bills and spend it in other sectors of the economy, it boosts growth and jobs in those other sectors. Because the energy sector is among the least job-intensive parts of the U.S. economy, this spending shift results in net employment gains.

These gains are sizable, because existing standards have been a huge success story. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates they will save 71 quadrillion Btus (quads) of energy by 2020 and double that by 2030, when they will cumulatively save more than $2 trillion in utility bills. Savings on water and wastewater bills will also accrue. National standards cover approximately 60 categories of products, ranging from appliances such as refrigerators and microwave ovens in homes to cooling/heating equipment and lighting in offices and other commercial buildings.

The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy research quantifies the jobs that result from the standards’ net economic savings, which totaled $58 billion in 2016 and will reach $134 billion by 2030. The half million-plus jobs we expect in 2030 are almost as many as the roughly 650,000 in the entire U.S. mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction sector.

Standards for light bulbs contribute to this positive macroeconomic impact more than any other standard. The stronger light bulb standards slated to take effect in 2020 account for nearly one-fifth of the net economic benefits and jobs in 2030.

The number of jobs created or sustained by appliance and equipment standards is significant in every state. For example, in 2030 California’s net economic benefits will total nearly $20 billion, resulting in more than 80,000 jobs. Savings scale with population and commercial building energy use so, not surprisingly, the states will the biggest populations have the largest job growth. Yet not just the largest states benefit. In Kentucky, appliance standards will produce $1.4 billion in net economic benefits and create or support more than 5,500 jobs in 2030.

Appliance standards are an obvious boon to energy, water, and monetary savings, but they are also a major job creator. As technologies improve, there will be new opportunities to update standards, increasing both savings and jobs. Weakening or eliminating current standards will harm the economy and put jobs at risk.

Source: The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy

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

 

 

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.”

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.