One engineers journey from a Pathways’ Advisory Board Member to launching her own start-up to support students in STEM.
Vivien walked in the doors of Richmond High School in early fall 2017 not knowing this experience would change the trajectory of her professional career. As a professional engineer, and employee at the local Chevron Refinery, Vivien was eager, albeit apprehensive, about joining the Richmond High and Pinole Valley High School’s Engineering Advisory Board. How could an individual with no background in education attempt to support teachers, inspire students, or shape curriculum? Vivien’s trepidations were quickly put to rest when she met the Engineering Academies Lead Teachers: Marilyn Ahuna (Richmond) and Angela Johnson (Pinole Valley), both STEM professional who made the transition from corporate work to teaching.
Over the next several months Vivien grew her relationships with the Engineering Pathway teachers, the school administrators, the other professionals on the Advisory Board, and most importantly, the engineering students. Richmond High resembled her own high school experience, a period of her own life marked by inspiring relationships with educators that eventually led her down the path to becoming an engineer.
It wasn’t long before Vivien stepped into the role as Chair of the Advisory Board, championing opportunities for students to build relationships with a diverse range of professionals, taking part in meaningful field trips, raising additional funds for the Academies, organizing guest speakers, and ultimately, assessing the opportunities and current limitations available within the curriculum and relevant educational experiences.
During her time volunteering on the Advisory Board, Vivien and her Chevron colleague, Albert Hwang, began to notice a lot of the teachers did not have access to the cutting edge STEM equipment, materials, or specialized content relevant for the current engineering careers. And they decided to do something about it.
Putting Ideas to the Test
Building on their meaningful partnership with the engineering teachers, Vivien and Albert began experimenting with project-based curriculum that introduced engineering and coding in new and exciting ways. WCCUSD teachers offered their expertise and feedback, refining the curriculum over time and ensuring it aligned with the Next Generation Science Standards, as well as those of computer science and engineering. Vivien and Albert piloted a summer program at Richmond High during 2017 to text their ideas. The program was an instant success and the seed for QPi Education, a new start-up, was firmly planted.
Galvanized by their success, Vivien and Albert applied and won a position as part of the Launch startup accelerator at UC Berkeley, giving them the resources to really pursue their ideas with greater focus.
From working at Richmond High, Vivien states that “What I heard from students and teachers is they want to know the why. Why am I learning this?” To help answer this question, QPi Education developed a a professional development platform for teachers to access continuous learning, online learning communities, and curriculum (many in formats that are “ready to go”) in order to keep up to date on technical expertise relevant for today’s world. Good for educators, this is all designed with a low price tag.
Of course, all this focus on supporting teachers and students in STEM comes with a cost. Both Vivien and Albert quit their corporate jobs to run the company full-time. The transition from Advisory Board volunteer to start-up Co-Founder was official.
A Startup Accelerates
Now, QPi is in the middle of piloting additional course material and building the professional development platform based on ongoing feedback from engineering teachers and students. The company is committed to building a bank of lessons and materials that are ready to be brought into the classroom right away, as well as the online learning community where teachers can continue to troubleshoot challenges, learn and gather resources, and offer peer support around a range of STEM education issues. The first series of projects and resources are designed around using Raspberry Pi and work is continuing to be developed on themes such as project-based learning and renewable energy.
Join the Movement
Interested in learning more? From educators, to investors, there are plenty of ways to get involved and learn more about the work of QPi. Everyone interested in STEM education should sign up to join the platform and educators may consider attending an upcoming workshop on teaching with Raspberry Pi. Read more about the work of QPi in this article from Medium, or a recent blog post from VentureWell.
Full Circle: WCCUSD Engineering Pathway Leadership
Vivien is committed to continuing to support Richmond and Pinole Valley High’s Engineering Academies. Now with a new hat on, she is staying as a member of our Advisory Board to continue to offer her expertise in supporting our teachers and students. We couldn’t be more delighted!