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STEMpathy in Schools: A Conversation with mindSpark Learning


At Samsung, we have always had a pioneering spirit, a drive to push the boundaries of technology, and a steadfast mission to create meaningful innovation. We acknowledge the integral role that science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) plays in our daily lives and, as a corporate citizen, we are working to bridge STEM education gaps by readying a workforce through initiatives like Samsung Solve for Tomorrow (SFT). Entering its eleventh year, the national K-12 public school program is inspiring young minds to become seeds of change in their local communities and is effectively creating a viable talent pipeline to fill the growing STEM workforce needs.

As Solve for Tomorrow embarks upon a new decade, equity and empathy are top-of-mind. This has sparked a heightened focus on “STEMpathy” – embedding human compassion and empathy into STEM education to further evolve both emotional intelligence and cognitive development. Empathetic understanding leads to human-centered ways of solving problems and that conscious view also frames critical thinking, creativity, curiosity, decision making, leadership, entrepreneurship, and more.

Samsung has always been fundamentally human-centric, designing leading edge innovations to contribute to a better global society. So, we believe the intentionality behind STEMpathy to create social and economic value is a vital concept – and one that should become the centerpiece of a bold, new STEM education model. Samsung Electronics America Senior Director of Corporate Citizenship Ann Woo recently connected with mindSpark Learning CEO & President Kellie Lauth for an inspiring conversation on how they are supporting teachers’ STEMpathy development.

AW: mindSpark Learning launched in 2007. What inspired you to create a brand that is such an empowering force for educators?

KL: Our inspiration comes from the experience and belief that education is the answer to many of the world’s greatest problems. It is truly a human-centric endeavor to teach and learn. We know that an investment in educators is an investment in students and in the future. An educator’s influence and reach is exponential. If we want to transform education, we must empower our educators first.

Teachers of Cohort 1 lead three mini sessions, receiving feedback from Cohort 2 teachers between sessions, enabling them to pivot and adjust to provide better quality training for each subsequent group. After this activity, Cohort 1 teachers reflected on how difficult the challenge was, but most expressed interest in facilitating at their schools or even for larger groups. From top to bottom, Susan Flentie (Montana), Jamie Smith (Alabama), Ashley Lisoski (Nevada), Jason Gibbs (West Virginia)

AW: What has been the most gratifying part of creating professional learning experiences to elevate and upskill educators across the country?

KL: The most gratifying part is seeing how our work truly impacts educators and their students. mindSpark Learning does professional development very differently than others. We’re not only contributing to the recruitment and retention of quality educators, which is vital, we’re also forging new pathways to disrupt the current education landscape with our partners. This ensures educators have a seat at the table and are sought out for their expertise and experience.

We’ve seen the possibilities when education is not only the responsibility of communities, but imperative to a new paradigm of a human revolution in which we leverage emotional intelligence, conscious leadership, and an entrepreneurial foundation to change the conversation. It benefits all of us to elevate the teaching profession and to see an educator unleashed to design thoughtful, forward-facing, relevant experiences for their students is bar none.

AW: mindSpark’s STEMpath was introduced in January 2019. Why was launching a STEM certification program so important to you?

KL: We saw two big challenges in the way STEM is traditionally introduced and taught in our schools. First, the way we certify and upskill our educators needs an overhaul, because the status quo is not working. We know from strong industry models that people can learn and demonstrate their competencies in varied and dynamic ways. We expect educators to provide this for our students, yet we have failed to create robust pathways for our educators to become experts, especially in STEM disciplines.

Second, there is a shortage of educators nationally. An even larger gap exists in those qualified in STEM disciplines, yet the demand for these jobs is increasing, with educators essentially at the epicenter. We felt it was imperative to create a responsive program, like STEMpath, that would result in more qualified STEM educators at all levels, allow for the educators to graduate debt free, and directly intersect industry and educators to benefit students.

AW: Are empathy and compassion incorporated into the STEMpath curriculum? If so, how?

KL: Absolutely! Problem-solving and human-centric design is the very DNA of the STEMpath curriculum. You simply cannot create viable, scalable solutions without empathy and compassion, and I would also add that you need courage. Designing for an end user involves deeply understanding that through questioning and experience, you can make the invisible visible.

Katie Van Strander (pictured lower left) joined the employee roundtable at the 2020 Teacher Academy. From left to right…Jonathan Harvey (New Jersey), Brittany Buxcel (Minnesota), Adrian Jopek (New Mexico), Huy Pham (California), Katie Van Strander (Samsung).

AW: As a former principal of a K-8 STEM title school, what’s your take on teaching “STEMpathy” in grades K-12?

KL: In a world where “what we know” is instantly accessible via technology, there becomes a premium on what we do with what we know. STEMpathy is bringing humanity back into the equation. As a former principal, my core mission was to cultivate an entrepreneurial culture where risk and failure were as valued as creativity and critical thinking. This is a mission that is reflected in our work at mindSpark. When schools and educators embrace the notion of STEMpathy, STEM isn’t limited by just these four letters. All students have the right to be literate: scientifically literate, career literate, and financially literate. If you believe this, then it does not matter how many letters or symbols you add to “STEM,” what matters is that students develop skills that transcend careers with empathy and compassion leading the way.

AW: When Samsung launched its Samsung Solve for Tomorrow Teacher Academy initiative, mindSpark became an inaugural partner of the weeklong professional development practicum. What impact does scaling talent have on local communities?

KL: Scaling talent is crucial for the sustainability of local communities; it benefits our wellbeing. We want to retain talent and create economies of opportunity and growth for our students and our educators. This starts with the way we view the purpose of school. Schools need to be viewed as precious economic and social organizations, originating wealth generation, and offering solutions to human dilemmas.

AW: A total of about 100 Teacher Academy educators have experienced mindSpark’s professional development workshops. Tell us a bit about the highly relevant lessons you designed for the SFT teachers for the all-virtual Academy this past August?

KL: We designed Samsung Solve for Tomorrow Teacher Academy lessons based on our nationally recognized problem-based learning (PBL) model. The instructional model of problem-based learning driven by industry outcomes intersects employability skills with robust content and context for learning, which is more crucial now than ever before. It is relevant across all content areas for grades K-12. The tradition of teaching content in discrete silos is replaced with a merging of the content areas while simultaneously creating more time for instruction with a focus on problem solving, iterative process, relevancy and the very tenets of STEMpathy – empathy, resilience, and compassion. The lessons were based on relevant problem scenarios that have global implications and the educators leveraged technology to design hyper-localized solutions in tandem with community and industry experts.

An example is Samsung and mindSpark Learning connected three industry partners, Downtown Streets, Stand Up for Kids, and City Team, with the 38 finalists to engage in a PBL that explored how technology could alleviate or eliminate youth homelessness. The cohort worked with these industry partners to learn more about the root causes of the problem and hear from individuals who were currently experiencing homelessness. Participants worked in groups to develop technology-based solutions to common challenges of homelessness and presented their ideas to six experts to gain feedback.

AW: What advice can you give to teachers on how to tackle the 2020-2021 school year and its unique set of challenges?

KL: This school year has certainly proven to be challenging and the need to support our educators has increased exponentially. My advice for educators is to invest in your own wellbeing and connect with your colleagues more than ever. Seek out opportunities for leadership and empowerment. STEMpathy is not just for students but educators who need to feel supported in their professional journey. Compassion and empathy are no longer nice-to-haves but must-haves both in and out of the classroom. Together we can ensure we shift away from universal prescription to responsiveness. This is the time to seize opportunities for innovation, galvanize a win-win mentality over a win-lose outcome and expand our entrepreneurial footprint in education, not diminish it. We got this!

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