INSPIRED IMPACT is an ongoing blog series that gives voice to purpose-driven organizations and passionate leaders and entrepreneurs who are making an impact in their communities and industries.

 


Melissa Risteff

Melissa Risteff is the CEO & Co-Founder of Couragion. Follow her on Twitter and LinkedIn. Learn more about Couragion at www.couragion.com.

 

WHAT DO YOU DO?

Couragion inspires underrepresented students to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Couragion links education to industry and community with diverse role models, a “best fit” career assessment, ongoing skill building activities, personalized learning plans, and digital portfolios that help prepare students to enter the workforce. Couragion is research-backed and supported by the Engineering Directorate of the National Science Foundation.

 

WHY DO YOU DO IT?
I’ve spent the last few decades as a leader and hiring manager in the technology sector. At times, it took me 6-9 months to fill open positions – and it was incredibly tough to build a diverse team. We believe that many underrepresented youths who would otherwise succeed and find fulfillment in STEM jobs are often deterred by a lack of role models and mentorship. Couragion helps students envision themselves in STEM careers by showing them the opportunities and by featuring role models who mirror the students’ diverse demographics. In doing so, Couragion builds perceived personal capacity.

 

WHAT IMPACT ARE YOU MAKING?
With Couragion, students understand STEM career opportunities and how those options are mapped to their individual values, interests, and aptitudes. Students repeatedly tell us that they feel encouraged and understood after using Couragion. Here’s an example student quote: “I really liked how accurate the survey was in matching jobs and careers to my interests. I also liked the quests and I think it’s a great way to get help deciding future careers.”
But don’t just take our word for it. Hear directly from Nick – an education administrator, Amanda – a STEM teacher, and Melissa – a school counselor – all of whom are using Couragion today in the classroom!

 

WHAT (OR WHO) HAS INSPIRED YOU TO MAKE THIS IMPACT?

We are helping kids understand what factors to consider when selecting careers. One student said: “I would love to work under the sea & work with the climate. The only thing that I’m not so happy with is working to the weekends, don’t think I can do that. I want to spend time with family, my own family one day.” Knowing what you don’t want is just as important as knowing what you want!
I’ll admit to jumping up and down with my hands in the air by myself in my office when seeing our student outcome data. After learning about new careers with Couragion, 77% of students were motivated to register for an upcoming STEM class and 73% agreed that they intended to pursue a new hobby, interest, or skill. An especially promising indicator was that both metrics were even higher when looking at just students of color in the study – whereby 83% agreed they were motivated to register for an upcoming STEM class and 77% agreed that they intended to pursue a new hobby, interest, or skill.

 

WHAT’S YOUR BIG DREAM FOR THE ORGANIZATION AND THE IMPACT YOU WANT TO MAKE?
The STEM workforce lacks diversity with ~27% of STEM workers being female and only 13% being people of color! We want to boost both the number and diversity of students pursuing STEM pathways. Couragion is proven to increase the awareness and perception of STEM careers.

 

WHAT IS (OR HAS BEEN) YOUR BIGGEST CHALLENGE?

We need to rid ourselves of misleading STEM myths and stereotypes and do our part to vocally reset cultural and societal norms. Here are a few that really vex me:

  • Not all scientists are wild-haired males in lab coats.
  • Not all software engineers are brogrammers.
  • Career exploration needs to start no later than middle school.
  • Career readiness needs to come before college readiness.
  • There are other post-secondary options for high school students besides a four-year degree.
  • Industry certifications are an acceptable and viable path to earning a lucrative wage in rewarding fields.

Want to talk about these? Hit me up…

 

WHAT WORDS OF ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR OTHER LEADERS LOOKING TO MAKE AN IMPACT?

Once you find a purpose-driven path, real change doesn’t come quickly. A combination of persistence and patience is important every single day. Oh yeah – and don’t forget to regularly celebrate your successes no matter how small they are.

 

HOW CAN OTHERS SUPPORT YOU OR YOUR CAUSE?
We’re always looking for innovative districts, schools, administrators and teachers who are willing to work with research-backed partners like ourselves. I’d love to talk to you about how you can get involved and how we can support each other.