GenX women in higher ed from around the globe

The Wonder of Google

In Uncategorized on 2016/02/06 at 00:52

By Yves Salomon-Fernandez

It’s not every day that I get to have this type of a mesmerizing experience through the course of my work. Of course students reading essays or explaining their experiments are often captivating. Their gripping stories of how they overcome serious obstacles to succeed in college sometimes bring me to tears. Faculty sharing their sabbatical work is almost always a highly intellectually stimulating experience that lights up my own passion for teaching and research. I have experienced nothing in my personal or professional life that equates my experience visiting with Google executive, Steve Vinter this week.

As I reflect back on this experience, the image that it conjures for me is that of the children in Charlie Wonka’s Chocolate factory movie. Ironically, it is the classic version that I think of rather than Johny Depp’s recent high-tech version. Yes, I felt like a child in a chocolate factory. Writing this blog piece, I feel like one of NPR’s This American Life narrators telling a story that I can’t write fast enough to share with my audience. Taking the tour at Google, I couldn’t wait to ask Vinter if I could bring my students to experience this. If I could be in such awe, I couldn’t imagine how they would feel. If you’ve never been inside of it, you cannot imagine it!

Prioritizing Employee Satisfaction as Much as Productivity

Google’s 1,000 employees occupy 12 floors of a massive modern, three-connected building facility in Cambridge’s high tech and innovation hub in Kendall Square. The company takes prides in the fact that each of its campuses has a unique identity and design. Google Cambridge embraces the open floor concept, so closed spaces consist mostly of super high-tech conference rooms, an auditorium, a private massage room, a library, Vinter’s office, and two small sleeping rooms with a bed, which I did not get to see because they were occupied. (These are all the closed spaces that I can remember).

Each floor has its own micro-kitchen. One of the two cafeterias was serving breakfast at the time of my arrival. The cafeteria was impressive and the food is free. To top that off, they sometimes serve lobster, Vinter added. I shared with my host that I am a big lobster aficionada. There is a patio and a garden located on separate floors. While there is a gym, there are also work stations that are treadmills tailored to accommodate a computer to allow employees to take a walk as they work. There are standing work stations and the workspaces are decorated by their occupants expressing their personalities. The informal work spaces range from college hang-out spaces to modern living room look-alikes. There is mini-golfing, a photo booth, nautical-themed spaces, a room with two traditional airplane seats and another with two airplane sleeping pods. Lastly, there is the filepole that has not been authorized for use.

The integration of aesthetics, function, form, comfort, utility, and accommodation made me realize immediately how much emphasis was placed on employee satisfaction as much as productivity in designing each floor. It felt like the kind of environment I have always wanted to create within my own industry.

Closing the Opportunity Gap Together

As he gave me the tour, Vinter explained the significance and rationale for each area. He also shared how the employees themselves were integral to designing their own work space and, at times, even overruled him. It wasn’t just the office that captivated me, it was also the Steve’s ideas about education, educational change, and his commitment to closing the opportunity gap for all disadvantaged students and his work with inner city kids. What started as an effort on my part to create opportunities for our students and recruit a potential member to our college’s Board of Trustees or Foundation ended up being the beginning of a meaningful professional relationship. In speaking with Vinter, I felt that I had just met a kindred spirit in terms of leadership, innovation, stewardship, and social justice.

Vinter and I first met through the Governor’s STEM Council a couple of years ago, though neither of us could remember the specific event. He is also the co-founder of the Massachusetts Computing Attainment Network (MassCAN), which is a K-20 collaboration promoting computational skills in K-12 schools as part of a multi-sector partnership. Vinter is also a major contributor to the recently adopted computer science standards for K-12 schools. We recently reconnected at a Department of Higher Education event that my community college co-sponsored with our partner Framingham State University.

I look forward to my students getting the same experience I had and to cooking up some new initiatives with Vinter in the near future. By the end of our meeting, we had already set up our next one.

Universal, Free Higher Education is Good for Global Citizenship

In Uncategorized on 2016/02/06 at 00:50

Right now there is a debate in the NY Times on the cost of public higher education with some, including Sara Goldrick-Rab, arguing that public higher education should be universal and free. Amongst Goldrick-Rab’s arguments is that free universal education would help students from lower socio-economic backgrounds focus on learning.Unknown.png

I couldn’t agree more. And, having just returned from a service-learning experience in Mexico, I would add another important point to the list: the cost of higher education in the U.S. limits our students’ access to intercultural exchange. This happens in two ways: first, in countries where higher education is highly subsidized by the government (Norway, France, and, yes, Mexico), students have little opportunity — or interest — in spending time studying abroad in the U.S. unless they come from a financially well-off family. Similarly, this means that those international students who come to the U.S. to study for four years tend to be from a certain (high) socio-economic background thus, though U.S. students may be exposed to students from different cultures, the range of experiences is limited.

Second, on our end of things, the cost of higher education in this country prevents our students — especially students of color and those from lower socio-economic backgrounds — from studying abroad, given the fact that they are already in debt and the (often higher) cost of studying abroad can be daunting. It should be noted here that the exchange I refer to above and below was fully-funded through alumni donations, allowing students who would otherwise not have been able to travel abroad the opportunity to do so.

Having recently witnessed the power of cultural exchange, when students from my large public institution interacted with students at a large Mexican public institution, I can assure you that this is no small point in the bigger higher education picture. We need to move beyond touting “global citizenship” in strategic plans and university mission statements, while limiting it in practice through structures that prevent students from experiencing intercultural exchange. Students in the U.S. and abroad benefit greatly from intercultural exchange, and we do everyone a disservice when we structure our universities in ways that stifle it.

Gwendolyn Beetham is the Director of the Global Village at Douglass Residential College, the women’s college at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. She is also the Assistant Editor of University of Venus, a Member-at-Large for the National Women’s Studies Association, and a 2015-2016 seminar fellow at Rutgers’ Institute for Research on Women.

The Kids on Mary Drive

In Uncategorized on 2016/02/06 at 00:48

Dear Mayor Weaver,

When I saw the map in the New York Times this week, I felt compelled to find out where I had lived from birth to five. I knew that I had lived in a trailer park near Dort Highway and that I had lived on Mary Drive (yes, the little street in our trailer park was named after me and it still bears the same name. The trailer park had changed owners just as I was arriving on this planet and the owner had three streets to name. Completely by chance, he only had two daughters. Timing is everything: a lesson learned on day one, literally.)

Well, I found it and it is in the 61% zone – the highest density of polluted water – most likely the poorest part of Flint.

I escaped – and moved from deep urban trailer-park poverty to an isolated, newly built, working-class subdivision in a small town 20 minutes from Flint – too small and rural to be called a suburb. And from there, to East Lansing, Michigan State, and a BS in Psychology.

In 1989 I moved to Boston and I’ve never looked back.

I’ve felt immense and overwhelming guilt at “getting out” but I’ve never looked back. I’ve felt lucky, very lucky. I still feel lucky and grateful and relieved that my 10 year old son didn’t grow up drinking Flint water and with that relief comes even more guilt. I try to assuage my guilt by giving my time, energy, and charitable donations to my Roxbury neighborhood in Boston but I have never given to Flint.

I think it’s time for me to look back.
I think it’s time for me to do something for the kids on Mary Drive.

Can we talk?

Mary Churchill