Will actions speak louder than words in the ongoing STEM discussion?

Written by Dr. Stacy-Ann Allen Ramdial

Over the last 10 years the acronym STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) has become a buzzword in many circles. Is it possible that like many pop culture expressions,  the clever acronym-word duality that is “STEM” will fade into obscurity once its use (or misuse) has been exhausted?

STEM means different things to different audiences with varying degrees of overlap in meaning. For some it excludes any reference to medical professions; for others, it is an all-encompassing term to mean anything remotely related to science. The acronym was first introduced by Judith Ramaley, the director at the National Science foundation, in 2001 for policy making purposes [1]. Since then the term has become the go to buzzword for policymakers, academics, and the public regardless of whether its use is appropriately employed.

I’ve written, debated, read, and listened to the merits of a STEM educated workforce. But as we look towards the 15 year anniversary of the terms coinage, I sometimes wonder if anything profoundly meaningful will come from the conversation.

Don’t get me wrong, a productive conversation is one worth having; however one must ask at some point: has this STEM conversation really been productive considering how much of it has translated into meaningful action? Have we gotten so complacent with the use of the term that we simply employ its use as a policy filibuster or has the definition of STEM become so “muddled” that many of the key stakeholders are frequently and unintentionally talking past each other?

Today more than ever, as we react to the effects of globalization and rapid technological advances, we embrace the idea that without a sustained STEM educated workforce, the U.S. will fall behind as a global leader. This has been highlighted in President Obama’s past and most recent State of the Union address where he has stressed the importance of both preparing students to succeed in the global economy, and supporting a STEM workforce to optimize economic growth.

If this is our commitment, then how many more articles have to be written, debates had, speeches made, and conferences held about the leaky STEM pipeline, the unprepared STEM workforce, the failure to capitalize on the investments made in domestic STEM graduates, the racial/ gender disparities in the STEM workforce, and the wage gap in STEM fields, before we make measurable headway. I could list more of the STEM issues tackled on a daily basis by policymakers, academics and the public, but I won’t belabor the point in this piece as a simple web search will provide a comprehensive background and update on the discussion. However, as a contributor and a benefactor of the ongoing STEM discussion, I have to ask: will STEM lose its conversational prominence and if so will it be due to passivity, pandering, or progress?

1. Donahoe, D. The definition of STEM, Today’s Engineer, December 2013

How I’m Building My Tech Startup

Written by Chanel Martin 

A black woman in a tech start-up in the South, sounds like an oxymoron right? But it’s true. My name is Chanel Martin, and I am Co-founder and COO (Chief Operating Officer) of Techturized. Techturized was the brainchild of co-founder Candace Mitchell, CEO, and myself. We met at Georgia Institute of Technology in 2008. Mitchell was studying computer science, and I was in a dual degree program with Clark Atlanta University pursuing a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering.

Techturized is a hair care technology company that creates innovative solutions to transform the hair industry. We launched our first product, Myavana, December 2013. Myavana is a mobile and social style platform, where women can search for hairstyles, products, and stylists in their area. Myavana will offer hair personalization plans Fall/Winter 2014. These personalized plans will recommend hairstyles, products, and services based on a woman’s unique hair type.

On how we got started

Candace and I had issues with finding the right styles and products for our hair. One day, I was searching for natural hair wedding styles for my upcoming wedding. I searched everywhere, including blogs, websites, and YouTube videos and was overwhelmed. I didn’t understand why the information was so fragmented and unhelpful. I decided to do something about it! What better person to tackle this issue than a Chemical Engineer?  I reached out to Candace Mitchell to help with the tech side and the rest was history.

On getting funding

We applied to an accelerator program, Flashpoint, based out of Georgia Tech in 2012. They provided $35K in funding, an office space, and seasoned mentors. We were accepted and began immediately working on our company. Flashpoint was instrumental to the success of our brand and our company. During Flashpoint, we interviewed over 1000 women to help build our first product, Myavana. We also learned how to pitch to investors, and to hustle!

After Flashpoint, we asked friends and family to invest in our company and raised $40K. We then caught the eye of some local angel investors and raised an additional $25K. Next, we participated in a crowdfunding campaign through indeigogo and raised another $25K. Our biggest funding cash cow comes from pitch competitions. To date, we have raised $85K, and over $200K in products and services from entering and winning pitch competitions. We are currently in the processes of raising $500K to carry out the next phases of our business.

On our challenges

We have faced so many challenges, but each one has helped us grow as a company, and as a team. Raising money as a minority owned company in the south, that provides/sells products and services to women of color has been a huge hurdle. People invest in people, ideas, and businesses that they are comfortable with. That means, that the old white guy probably doesn’t understand us, or our business model. For that reason, we have spent lots of money, time, and energy educating white men and women on the black consumer market. When we explain that black women drive 33 % of the 10 billion dollar US hair product industry, but are only 6% of the population, they start to “kind of” get it.

We also had to overcome our underlying  issues about being black women who are asking a southern white men for money.

On why are we doing this

If it were only about the “potential money” that we would make, then we would have quit a long time ago. This path has been an exciting, yet a stressful whirlwind of events. There have been many times along this 2-year journey where I wanted to quit. I wanted to go back to being a chemical engineer in a traditional 9-5 setting, but we both realized that we are on an assignment from God. We are trailblazers, who are paving the path for other women to use their STEM backgrounds to create multi-million, even billion-dollar companies. We are a reminder to the human race, that with perseverance, trust in God, and family support, you can achieve anything no matter your socioeconomic status or skin color.

On Advice to other entrepreneurs

Candace and I work on this full-time. In addition to full-time work with Techturized, I am a wife and a mother to a newborn baby girl. It’s a tough road to follow, and you need a support system to get through each day. Before walking away from that 9-5, identify your support system that will encourage you and keep you lifted in prayer and daily affirmation’s. Understand that the road less traveled is very tough. You may get hundreds of “no’s” before you get your first “yes”. If you truly believe in what you are doing, keep at it.

What’s Next

We were just accepted in to another business accelerator program, DreamIt Ventures for the fall cohort. We are also partnering with Spelman College in Atlanta to create a pipeline for women in STEM. To keep up with Techturized and Myavana, visit Myavana.com/media. Myavana is available for download in the Apple App and Google Play stores. You can also follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram @MyavanaHair.

 

Chanel Martin is Chemical Engineer from Oklahoma City. She not only excelled in her studies, which led to her receiving her Master of Science in Chemical Engineering, but she also possesses a passion for entertainment, beauty and all things hair. Follow her @chanelebone on Twitter and Instagram.