An interview with Sabari Raja, Cofounder of Nepris
Last week, Margaret McEwen, middle school teacher at Parish, shared a project her students worked on that involved Nepris -facilitated interaction with a STEM professional. This week, we hear from the co-founder of Nepris, Sabari Raja:
1. What is STEM, to you?
Anything that requires application of math, science, engineering and technology to bring innovative products and services to people. Whether you are a chemist in a cosmetic company creating the next generation of makeup, fashion designer using math and technology to redefine wardrobes, an architect designing sustainable buildings or a game designer with the next engaging app, its all STEM. 70% of all jobs in the next decade are going to have some component of STEM. Its time to broaden our view of what STEM is.
2. How did the idea to start Nepris, which in your words is a version of match.com to bridge the gap between industry and education, come to you? How did your prior work experiences at TI factor in this idea?
I was involved in a lot of discussions in the DFW area involving industry and education stakeholders especially around bridging the STEM pipeline gap. The one thing always rose up to the top in these discussions were how to engage more employees in the classroom to create that real world relevance for students. That’s easily said than done.
Traditionally schools did career days or STEM days but that not enough. Most professionals can’t take 1/2 day off to go to a school and in this model rural schools had absolutely no access. In this day and age of social platform for everything, there was nothing to help connect professionals with teachers and students. We created nepris to provide scalability and accessibility so that every classroom no matter where they are can connect with the right industry professionals throughout the year.
3. Why is this gap important to bridge?
The recent Gates Foundation study highlights the fact that 47% of kids who drop out do so because they don’t see the relevance of school. From the industry side there is a huge skills gap…only one-third of high tech jobs in the US will be filled by US workers in 2018 (Microsoft STEM perceptions study). 67% of girls and 56% of boys who choose a STEM career do so because of just one event or incident in their life. Its our job to create these moments of discovery for our kids so we can fill this pipeline effectively.
4. How did you go about starting and growing Nepris?
First of all I consider myself fortunate becauose I have a talented co-founder, Binu Thayamkery who knows how to take ideas into products effectively. We pretty much followed the lean development model. Exactly a month after we did some initial surveys and talked to industry and education stakeholders we did our first industry session with Pam McBride’s Principles of Engineering class in McKinney ISD and General Motors and Anbu Subramaniam from General Motors who were inspired by our mission and spent time to create an engaging interaction with students. You can see a testimonial from Pam, Anbu and Neeraj here.
We continued to do these sessions, next with Dallas ISD and then with Richardson ISD as we were building the platform. When we were ready to launch a Beta Pilot in Fall 2014 already word had spread and 10 school districts were ready to participate in the pilot. With Samsung, Frito Lay , HKS willing to participate at an early stage…we were quickly able to prove the value. When we released in Feb 2014, it didnt take long for teachers from outside of Texas to participate as well. By end of 2014 school year we had teachers from 45 states on the platform and professionals from nearly 1300 companies. Today we have large implementations in Texas, California, Louisiana, North carolina and have formed some valuable partnerships with companies like LinkedIn that is helping us scale. See a blog article here: http://bit.ly/1GjVsrG. We also proud to share that we have won 8 different edtech innovation awards all nominated by teachers and school administrators. We are growing rapidly.
5. Any examples of ways schools and teachers have used Nepris that surprised you, delighted you, or that you were not thrilled about?
I have tons of examples of great usage. One of my favorites is Ashere Potter from Aldridge Elementary in Plano ISD who wanted to connect with a Fashion designer to talk about the importance of Measurements (in math). Megan from Fossil connected with this class and completely transformed the stereotypes of where math could be applied. Ms.Potter said” the girls in the class were especially inspired to pursue math…”. Richardson ISD has a large implementation in their elementary classrooms and they have done several of these sessions.
The most surprising connection I ever got was from Nick Yarris, an exoneree who had served 22 years in prison on death row wrongly accused of a crime he did not commit. His story is the most inspiring (read his book “Seven Days to Live”). He just did his first session through Nepris with Oakland Unified in SFO on Criminal Justice. We never imagined the breadth of valuable connections we can bring to the classrooms. Everyday we get inspiring emails and thank you’s from so many classrooms and professionals. This is the best job ever!
6. What suggestions or advice do you have for teachers as they think about planning the 2015-16 school year?
There are millions of scientists, engineers and other professionals ready to support you in your classroom. Take advantage of this opportunity to engage your students through authentic learning. With the use of the right tools and teaching techniques you can meet your teacher evaluation goals too. The Charlotte Danielson’s Framework for Teaching has become a widely used definition of teaching in the United States, and has been adopted as the single model, or one of several approved models, in over 20 states.
The H.E.A.T.®/Danielson Teacher Evaluation aligns with H.E.A.T.® & Digital Age Best Practices research (2014) and with Charlotte Danielson’s Framework for Teaching(2007)
HEAT is an acronym:
H= higher order thinking skills
7. What range of student ages is Nepris suitable for?
Nepris is used widely across K-12. Many project based learning classrooms in elementary and middle school use Nepris to bring real audience into the classroom for creating relevance, mentoring and evaluating students on projects to raise the stakes, introducing students to career role models etc. In high school, many career and technical education classrooms use Nepris in their pathways to connect students with the industry.
For example, elementary students in Richardson ISD are doing a Shark Tank kind of pitch and are using Nepris to interact with entrepreneurs from around the country. This helps them prepare for the final pitch to a live panel. From Kinder classes talking with a soil scientist to middle school class talking to Architects and high school classrooms talking with automotive engineers at general Motors. We are all over the board.
8. What do you think about US2020 as an organization responding to the Whitehouse’s call to dramatically increase mentorship in STEM content areas at school?
US2020 launched about the same time we started Nepris. I think its great that this initiative has created wide spread awareness about the importance of connecting industry and education. They have set a clear goal of connecting 1 million employees to the classroom by year 2020. At Nepris we consider ourselves an enabler to this mission by providing companies and schools a technology solution to meet these goals. We believe we can get 1 million employees engaged in the classroom and inspire millions of students to pursue STEM careers by 2020.
Sabari is the co-founder of a fast growing ed-tech startup, Nepris Inc, a first of its kind web-based platform to connect industry and education. She worked in education technology for 17 years leading product and content strategy, business development, publisher relations, and emerging market growth strategies. She is passionate about working with K12 educators to translate their needs into scalable technology solutions. She plays an active role in furthering STEM education around the country.
Sabari has an undergraduate degree in Electrical Engineering from India, Masters in Computer Science from Louisiana State University, and an Executive MBA degree from Cox School of Business, SMU. She lives in Austin, Texas and is also a busy mom with 2 boys in elementary school.