How do we give rural children, as well as those living in urban or suburban areas, a chance to learn about and explore careers? In this guest column, Sabari Raja, CEO and co-founder of Nepris, an Austin-based social platform, writes about the need for more business role models for students.
I grew up on a coconut farm in south India where I woke up every day to the sound of peacocks. I could pick fresh mangoes right from the trees on our farm. While this was a great way to grow up, good schools were at least fifty miles away from our home. I had limited ideas about what the outside world looked like.
Growing up this way, I identify with the twenty-four percent of U.S. students who live in rural communities. Simply by their location, rural schools have limited access to role models for students. Professional who work in high tech careers or business or any of the countless other jobs are clustered in urban areas.
There are interesting and rewarding careers in rural areas, and agriculture qualifies as a high tech career these days. However, many rural students don’t truly engage and interact with role models who can inspire them to pursue careers they haven’t yet realized exist. Furthermore, students of color and with diverse economic and social backgrounds need to see more adults who are successful, who look like them, and who grew up in a situation similar to theirs.
Engage, Excite, Scale
1. Engage – Leaders from the business world should actively commit to and engage with schools. This can take the form of virtual field trips and career days, STEaM days hosted by companies. And we should have conversations that bring relevance to curriculum topics. How are linear equations applied in building roller coasters? What is the chemistry behind printing money? How is total internal reflection applied in fiber optics? We can create links between what takes place in class with the real world.
2. Excite – Individuals must talk to students about how they chose their job and their educational path to get there. Students should see the living, breathing enthusiasm people have for their work. Students need to make a concrete connection between those adults and the journey each took to reach a career.
3. Scale – It is not possible to make every relationship 1:1 between a working professional and rural student. While individual guidance is important and extraordinarily effective in inspiring students, 1:1 is not always practical. We need scalable technology solutions that enable virtual connections to make it possible to have 1-to-many relationships. One professional connected to 50 classrooms with a live, interactive session does make an impression. And it is far more practical than trying to physically bring a working adult into every classroom in the country.
Role Models for Students Through Technology
The overarching goal of all this effort is to create relevance in the classroom through personal relationships. Relevance bridges classroom learning to the real world, including to the people who work in it. Giving students the chance to interact with a live professionals, as they explore opportunities, lets them see beyond their immediate environs. While videos, storybooks, or exploring on the Internet may help, nothing is as effective as personal interaction.
Our charge is to leverage technology so that we can make those interactions happen. We must effect change in an order of magnitude. We have all the resources we need to make this happen. But we need commitment. I challenge industry groups, companies, and individuals to commit to participating in schools both near and far. Let’s envision this mission on an order of scale so that no students think that the only world possible for them is the only one they’ve ever known.
Sabari Raja is the CEO and co-founder of Nepris, a cloud-based social platform that helps match industry professionals’ skills to classroom and curriculum needs and virtually connects them to students to bring abstract lessons to life and expose them to real world careers. Sabari lives in Austin, Texas, with her husband and two young sons who pick mangoes from Grandma’s trees when they visit India.