Originally published in Authority Magazine – January 28, 2020
Understand that students with diverse backgrounds may need a different approach to succeed. As important as it is to develop a diverse talent pipeline in industries like tech, educators must understand that access to STEM education still leans in favor of higher income students. Even when a lower income student is able to pursue an advanced STEM curriculum, educators must understand that they often lack the proper resources and exposure that helps their higher income peers to succeed.
As a part of my interview series about “5 Things You Need To Know To Be A Highly Effective Educator”, I had the pleasure to interview Harsh Patel.
Harsh Patel is the CEO of Galvanize, a leading provider of data science and software engineering training.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share the “backstory”behind what brought you to this particular career path?
Ifound my passion for education while volunteering for a non-profit educational organization to create online tools that help educate students during my undergraduate degree, but really fell in love with teaching during my time with Teach For America. After spending a few years working with 5th and 8th grade students, it became clear that the education software being used at the time wasn’t cutting it. When I looked for alternatives, I couldn’t find anything with the options and features I knew were necessary, so I taught myself to code and built one.
A friend of mine took a look at the curriculum I designed for myself in order to learn how to code, and together we realized that we had a unique, effective and replicable program that could help others learn just as I had. From there, MakerSquare — now Galvanize — was born.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your teaching career? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
One of the most interesting stories is the story of how I learned that strong parent engagement is the #1 most effective tool for increasing student engagement in an elementary and middle school classroom. In my classroom of 8th graders, I’d often have problems with students not doing their homework or acting up in class — I wasn’t alone, our whole school had that problem. As a fun project, I teamed up with a friend of mine and we built an app where we could text message our student’s parents from our computers in an instant. Once we had it built, one day, when several students were being rowdy in class, I quietly pulled up our app on the projector, clicked on the student’s name on our app which popped open their parents names and phone numbers, and sent a message letting the parents know how their kids were behaving in class. Within seconds, I get a response, which everyone can see, as it’s on the projector, saying “I’m sorry Mr. Patel, he’s got something else coming for him when he gets home today. It won’t happen again.” The entire class shaped up that instant, and for the rest of the year nearly all of the behavioral and assignment completion problems vanished. I learned an important lesson — no matter how hard you try getting buy-in from your students, their parents oftentimes have all the buy-in you need. Get the parents on board, and the students will follow.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
One thing we’re working on at Galvanize is a new series of remote, part-time professional development courses for those who are already in the tech industry but need to refresh their skills or gain a competitive edge through new techniques, mentoring or networking. Thus far, we have mainly been focused on helping students break into high-paying, high-demand jobs in a quick, effective and cost-efficient manner, but we want to expand our reach throughout the tech industry to create a network of lifelong learners. This initiative will help us to re-energize the careers of those who have already gone through our program and will also appeal to new members of our community.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our interview. From your point of view, how would you rate the results of the US education system?
The U.S. education system, and the higher education system more specifically, has by and large failed students. Colleges and universities are not adapting quickly enough to meet the needs of a modern economy, and are not taking enough responsibility for helping their students get jobs after they graduate because they aren’t held accountable for the outcomes of their graduates. As it stands, students are not getting the best return on investment from their education and many are struggling to find work once they graduate.
Can you identify 5 areas of the US education system that are going really great?
- Higher education institutions do a great job of helping students mature. Kids go from being taken care of to being entirely responsible for themselves in a matter of months, and the independence that comes with going to college is a huge factor in their development and maturity.
- Colleges and universities do a great job of offering students a diverse range of courses that can help them figure out their path if they are unsure about what they want to do when they arrive, which many 18 year olds are. Students may find their passion in something they’d never expect by taking classes in a variety of subjects and getting hands-on experience through internships.
- Students are learning how to effectively advocate for themselves. Colleges don’t have much of a responsibility to students after they collect tuition, which forces them into a “sink or swim” situation. This is far from ideal (more on that later), but because of how the current system works, students are learning valuable skills that can help them personally and professionally.
- Students have the opportunity to network with professors and school alumni, which can open doors into internships, career possibilities, mentorship and more. Four-year universities are not the only institutions with strong alumni networks though, as smaller, intensive programs are usually made up of close-knit cohorts who feel a strong allegiance to one another.
- Higher education institutions provide the ideal environment for creativity and innovation, a meeting of the minds in the truest sense of the words. Even though colleges and universities still have a ways to go in terms of diversity, they provide a forum for students from all backgrounds and walks of life to come together, and as a result, these institutions have the potential to produce the next generation of game-changers across every industry.
Can you identify the 5 key areas of the US education system that should be prioritized for improvement? Can you explain why those are so critical?
The US education system as a whole needs to focus most on improving the return on investment for a student and better align what they offer to meet current demands. That being said, there are a few different ways to do that and issues that need to be addressed before this can happen.
- Colleges need to invest more into their Career Services departments. Nationally, there is only one career service staff member for every 1,583 students. With that kind of ratio, there’s no way that colleges are able to help every student break into a relevant career, which means that many aren’t getting what they’re paying for.
- It’s completely backwards to continue pushing the idea that going to college and incurring debt is worth it so long as the student gets any degree. College is expensive and unless a student has the means to finance it themselves or a solid plan to repay the debt they incur, they should reconsider their options and think about how a community college or a bootcamp-style program may be able to help them meet their goals.
- More needs to be done to support the success of diverse student bodies. Systemic class issues cause people of color to have lower net worths than their white counterparts, so when it comes time to pay for college, these groups take out student loans that make them more likely to struggle financially well into their adulthood, even though they’ve done what they were “supposed” to do. Universities can address this manifestation of inequality by partnering with industry leaders to create scholarships and internship opportunities geared towards underrepresented communities and begin the development of diverse talent pipelines into high-demand, high-paying fields.
- Typical college courses are too often rooted in theory rather than practical experience. While having an understanding of the “why” of a lesson is important, theory isn’t tangible or marketable. It shouldn’t be up to students to seek out the real-world applications of what they’re spending thousands to learn.
- The way students pay for college needs a major overhaul. The ultimate cost of a bachelor’s degree may exceed $400,000 and this does not guarantee a well-paying job in a student’s field of study. The real world is not pay-to-play, and universities shouldn’t function that way either. Higher education should look to incorporate income share agreements so that they have more skin in the game when it comes to a student’s success. If the student doesn’t get a job, the institution doesn’t get paid, a change that will fundamentally alter the way colleges operate.
Super. Here is the main question of our interview. Can you please share your “5 Things You Need To Know To Be A Highly Effective Educator?” Please share a story or example for each.
- Don’t underestimate the value of incorporating real-world examples in the classroom. If an educator can act as proof for a student as to what’s possible through their education or bring in guest speakers currently working in that field, they can inspire the next generation of industry leaders. Teachers lead by example and can have a greater influence than they realize.
- It’s vital that students develop soft skills, in addition to concrete technical abilities. People hire people. Especially in an industry like tech, a student with the strongest coding ability who lacks people skills will be less desirable than candidates with a solid skillset and the ability to communicate their ideas, collaborate with a team and create a positive work environment. Educators can help foster these skills in their students by encouraging group work.
- Students need opportunities to put what they’re learning into practice. Project-based learning and independent study can help students uncover the “why” of what they’re learning. Giving students the opportunity to see for themselves how their lessons are applicable to the world around them can make everything click and inspire a passion to continue learning by doing.
- You are an important resource for students in the job search process. I’ve seen many students who had never written a resume before entering college, let alone attended a formal job interview. Without proper preparation and guidance, students may miss out on the perfect opportunity for them, even if they’re qualified skills-wise. Until institutions commit to investing in their Career Services departments, educators need to fill this gap and guide their students through the long, often confusing process of finding a job.
- Understand that students with diverse backgrounds may need a different approach to succeed. As important as it is to develop a diverse talent pipeline in industries like tech, educators must understand that access to STEM education still leans in favor of higher income students. Even when a lower income student is able to pursue an advanced STEM curriculum, educators must understand that they often lack the proper resources and exposure that helps their higher income peers to succeed.
As you know, teachers play such a huge role in shaping young lives. What would you suggest needs to be done to attract top talent to the education field?
I believe that higher education institutions should prioritize hiring staff and faculty who can bring real-world industry experience to their students. Career academics, while experts in their fields, are often preoccupied with theory, but theory alone isn’t enough. Experience and technical know-how are what allow students to hit the ground running and set them up for a successful career.
Institutions should prioritize a diverse faculty as well. Incorporating women, members of the LGBTQ+ community, people of color, and individuals with disabilities into the educational environment will show students from all backgrounds that success is possible for them, and will enable colleges to support a diverse student body not only through their expertise, but through shared experiences.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I have two favorite quotes: “Learn as if you were to live forever,” and “If you need to do something tomorrow, do it today. If you need to do something today, do it now.”
The first quote is from Gandhi, as I understand it. I think about it daily. I’m constantly trying to learn new things, and approach everything with a beginners mindset. I hope never to change that. Having a beginners mindset allows you to approach all problems, all people, all situations with empathy for everyone, which allows you to clearly identify problems and solutions.
The second is one my Dad told me years ago that has stuck with me ever since. We all have so many things we want to do, and the urgency in that quote inspires me to act, rather than only plan. Planning is fantastic, but it’s nothing without action, and plans always change when you put them in action. As such, getting things done now is almost always the right thing to do.
We are blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
Probably Elon Musk. He’s quite a controversial figure, and I really admire his vision-setting abilities for his companies, and for himself. He might be the only person on the planet putting his money and time where his mouth is in terms of reversing the effects of climate change as well as making humans an interplanetary species. How he runs two insanely ambitious and large companies, while having a family and running several smaller companies is beyond me.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
We are on Twitter and Instagram @galvanize. Readers can also visit our website at www.galvanize.com.
Thank you so much for these insights! This was so inspiring!