Profile: Hadi Partovi

As the son of a college professor who helped establish Iran’s Sharif University of Technology, Hadi Partovi has always had a deep-seated appreciation for teachers.
“Passionate teachers have been my biggest inspirations,” he says, noting that while he was always trying to pave his own path, he’s now doing something very similar to his father.
Partovi’s nonprofit,, provides computer science curriculum to tens of thousands of educators, empowering them to teach coding in their classrooms. The organization reports that more than half of all students participating in high school courses are African American or Hispanic and 37 percent are female.
Through the years, Partovi’s appreciation of the impact teachers can have on their students — and the world — has only grown. He illustrates this point with a story he recently heard about a junior high school teacher in Auburn, Wash., that he doesn’t even know.
According to Partovi, this teacher noticed that one of his students regularly missed school two or three days each week. Concerned, the teacher reached out to the child’s family to inquire about having him attend computer science classes (which were introduced into the school’s curriculum with the help of, Partovi’s organization).
The student started having regular attendance, and his father called the teacher to report that his son liked school, thanking him for recognizing the need for his son to be exposed to new subjects, like computer science.
“The student went from almost dropping out to learning code,” Partovi says. “That, to me, is the strongest example of a change in somebody’s future — because of the teacher.”
Hadi Partovi is a NationSwell Council member. In addition to co-founding, he is also a tech entrepreneur and investor.

Investing in Future Innovation: This Visionary Program Gets Students Hooked on STEM

In calculus class, you’d never use the phrase “star student” to describe Chris Deyo. He was slow to complete assignments about strange-sounding concepts like solids of revolution and related rates, staying behind to get extra help as his classmates jeered that the subject just “sucks.” To them, all they needed to know was enough to pass the test. After several after-school sessions, Deyo learned upper-level math well enough to tutor his peers. But instead of teaching straight out of the thick textbook like many teachers do, he showed how the lessons related other subjects. “The same kids who were saying they hate math could do it and were good at it when taught in a method that they identified with,” he noticed, causing him to wonder, “Is it really math or the way we’re teaching?”
Feeling accomplished, Deyo headed to the University of Texas at Austin with the thought, “I love [teaching and math] so much, I should try to make a living out of it.” There, he signed up for UTeach, a national program training math and science majors to become high school instructors. After graduating from UTeach last spring, Deyo began teaching math at a charter school in Austin. Frequently seen wearing a bowtie, the 23-year-old Deyo doesn’t look much older than the seniors in his calculus class. But he hopes to get them interested by teaching in ways that suit them, rather than just lecturing to teens that have tuned him out already. “From a young age, I realized those are the teachers that are making a difference,” he says.
Bored and intimidated by math and science, American teenagers are disengaged from the classes that prepare them for today’s tech-driven labor force — making UTeach needed now more than ever. The United States ranks a disappointing 35th in math and 27th in science out of 65 countries. Recruiting STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) majors who often arrive at college with no intention of teaching, these undergraduates “represent the most promising pool from which to draw future teachers,” says Kimberly Hughes, director of UTeach Institute, who expanded the UTeach model from eight Texas colleges to 35 more partner universities nationwide.
No high schooler is eager to do math problems without end, which is why UTeach trains its teachers to create hands-on, collaborative, real-world projects (a teaching method dubbed “project-based learning”) that are exciting to both educators and pupils. Recently, instead of solving systems of equations on the whiteboard, Deyo divided his class into groups and asked them to develop the problems themselves. Groups came up with equations that involved splitting pizza, controlling the amount of money spent on clothes and even comparing Spotify, TIDAL and other music-streaming services. “We try to be a student-led program, where students are taking initiative for their own learning,” Deyo says, speaking with a fast cadence, the enthusiasm about his students emanating in quick sentences. “They are coming up with the questions they want to answer.”
In response to the shortage of STEM professionals in our country, UTeach has already certified 2,676 instructors and is certifying 6,280 more in the next four years — just one of many ways it’s placing valuable 21st-century skills at the center of today’s education.
Case in point: Manor New Technology High School, a secondary magnet public school in Manor, Texas that employs only UTeach educators for math and science classes, is using project-based learning to instill a love of STEM in an unlikely student body. Unlike most STEM-focused magnet schools, Manor New Tech opened in 2007 to provide 21st-century-learning skills to economically disadvantaged minority students. These teenagers are statistically expected to be behind their white peers in biology (26 points for blacks, 16 for Hispanics), as well as in algebra (13 points for blacks, four for Hispanics). Yet, Manor New Tech eradicates the achievement gap to match state test scores in math and far exceed them in science, despite comparatively lower scores in the surrounding district.
Impressive? Yes. But for schools nationwide to replicate those results, a huge influx of passionate STEM educators is desperately needed. UTeach-trained instructors staff at least 1,120 schools in 34 states, but 43 states and the District of Columbia are short math or science teachers. Filling that gap will only happen as UTeach expands, Hughes believes. “Leveraging the universities in our country as places from which to prepare excellent math and science teachers is key to addressing the shortage of teachers nationwide,” she explains.
Statistics tell the numerical story of UTeach’s impact. But Deyo’s ability to convince math- and science-loving young people to be teachers is how the program truly creates a lasting impression. Problem solving ignites a passion inside Deyo, but more than that, he loves “seeing other people appreciate and fall in love with math and see the value in it. That’s what makes me want to teach.”
“Math, as a whole, to me is one big puzzle,” Deyo says. There may be one final right answer most of the time, but there are so many ways to arrive at it. UTeach may not be the only way to improve STEM education in America, but it’s clearly one of those vital pieces.
This article is part of the What’s Possible series produced by NationSwell and Comcast NBCUniversal, which shines a light on changemakers who are creating opportunities to help people and communities thrive in a 21st century world. These social entrepreneurs and their future forward ideas represent what’s possible when people come together to create solutions that connect, educate and empower others and move America forward.

This Program Shares Its Wisdom About Producing Minority Ph.D. Science Students

It goes without saying that the folks at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) know a thing or two about supporting and encouraging minority and low-income undergraduate students in continuing their studies and earning science Ph.D.s.
Impressively, over the past two decades, the Meyerhoff Scholars Program at UMBC has produced 900 graduates who have gone on to rack up 423 advanced science degrees and 107 medical degrees.
Compare that to Penn State, which was recently named one of the top 40 schools for educating black students who eventually earned advanced science degrees. Despite the recognition, the public university earned that status by producing just four (!) degrees earned by black science students out of about 3,000 STEM students total.
“The data is shocking,” Penn State Chemistry professor Mary Beth Williams told Jeffrey Mervis of Science Insider. “Clearly we have to do a better job.”
So the people behind UMBC’s successful Meyerhoff Scholars Program will mentor faculty and staff at Penn State and the University of North Carolina in an attempt to increase the number of minority students enrolled in science Ph.D. programs. Over five years, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute will dedicate $7.75 million to the effort.
Clearly, UMBC has figured out a formula that keeps minority and low-income students on track to become scientists: Close monitoring of academic progress, a summer program for incoming freshmen, scholarships, research opportunities, and a close cohort of talented students who foster a sense of teamwork with each other. Its current four-year class of Meyerhoff Scholars includes 300 students, 60 percent of which are underrepresented minorities.
Williams said she plans to study these lessons carefully in the program’s implementation at Penn State. “My goal is to clone it as much as possible. It’s been successful for 25 years, so why mess with it? The more you change, the more you’re inviting failure.”
The president of UMBC, Freeman Hrabowski, is proud of how the scholars program has grown from its initial class of 19 African-American male science students in 1989. “What Meyerhoff has done is get us to think about our responsibility to students who say they want a STEM degree,” he told Mervis. “And what helps underrepresented minorities will also help the rest of our students.”
MORE: When People Said Minorities Weren’t Interested in Science, This Guy Proved Them Wrong
Correction: June 5, 2014
A previous version of this post misstated the funding for this program. It is funded by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, not the UMBC.

These Girls Had Little Chance of Becoming Scientists, Until They Connected With an Innovator Who’s Improving Their Odds

Latina girls are the least likely of any group to indicate that they’re interested in pursuing a career in the STEM fields, according to a Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities report. While Latina women comprise eight percent of the U.S. population, they make up just two percent of scientists and engineers.
Luckily, engineer Luz Rivas is aiming to change that with her DIY Girls after school program in her home neighborhood of Pacoima in Los Angeles.
Rivas grew up poor in L.A. with her sister and single mother, often sleeping in other people’s garages because they had no permanent home of their own. In fifth grade, Rivas used a computer at school and immediately fell in love. “I felt like I had a real skill. I always liked things that had a real answer,” she told Erica L Sánchez of NBC News. From then on, she took every science class she could and applied to MIT just to see if she could get in. She did. After overcoming initial fears about leaving L.A., she went to MIT, even though “It felt like it was another country,” she told Sánchez. “I had never met so many students who had parents who were college-educated. It was shocking to see kids whose parents were guiding them. I didn’t have that.”
Now Rivas is stepping in to guide other girls who don’t have role models in STEM fields. After grad school and various engineering jobs, Rivas moved back to Los Angeles in 2013 to start DIY Girls. Most of the fifth grade girls in the DIY Girls after school program are Latina and qualify for free or reduced lunch. Rivas teaches them how to use 3D printers, write computer code, make wearable electronics, build toys, and more.
According to its website, DIY Girls aims to provide “a continuous pathway of support to a technical career” for these girls all the way through high school. Rivas works to develop the girls’ confidence, so that they keep raising their hands and asking questions right on through middle school, when many girls clam up due to peer pressure. DIY Girls expanded its program to a second public school this year.
DIY Girls gets moms involved too, with meetups for women who want to learn technical skills including coding, woodworking, and electronics. Rivas said that many of the girls’ parents work in construction, and become interested in what their daughters are learning. “People in our community are not engineers, but they know how to make things. They know how to make everything,” she told Sánchez. And soon there will be a new generation of women in this neighborhood who can make anything they want to, as well.
MORE: What Has Two Pom-Poms, a Ph.D., and a Passion for Science?

This Astronomy Program Encourages Minority Students to Be Science Stars

A program at the City University of New York is trying to change the face of astronomy — literally.
As NPR reports, the AstroCom NYC program encourages low-income and underrepresented CUNY (City University of New York) students to study the sciences. This program, now in its second year, assists these students by providing scholarships, personalized mentoring, involvement with real astrophysics research, career guidance, fellowship opportunities, and support for travel to observatories and conferences around the world. They even throw in a free laptop and a MetroCard for NYC transportation.
The goal is to help these scholars “build a sense of belonging in the field, and inspires and prepares them for graduate study,” the AstroCom NYC website states.
MORE: When People Said Minorities Weren’t Interested in Science, This Guy Proved Them Wrong
Scientific and technological minds are key to our nation’s growth, and we need all hands on deck to move forward. NPR notes that even though the country’s most famous astronomer, Neil deGrasse Tyson, is African-American, there is still a real lack of role models in the field. The report states in the past decade, only two percent of all the students earning doctorates in astronomy and physics fields were either black or Hispanic Americans.
The reason why there is this lack of representation is frustratingly clear. For low-income minority students, there is the devastating barrier of not being able to afford the years of advanced education that science degrees require.
Hopefully, programs like AstroCom NYC will help break this cycle and help bring the universe to more fingertips.

When People Said Minorities Weren’t Interested in Science, This Guy Proved Them Wrong

When physicist and engineer Stephen Cox first began encouraging minority students to study science and technology more than two decades ago, he faced plenty of doubters. “Many of the people just refused to believe that people of color can be involved in science and technology at this level,” Cox told Matt Erikson of Drexel University. But Cox proved them wrong through fifteen years of work as the director of the Greater Philadelphia Region Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP), an organization that brings together the resources of nine Philadelphia-area universities to provide outreach, mentoring, and encouragement for African American, Latino, and Native American students to pursue undergraduate and graduate degrees in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).
The National Science Foundation-funded LSAMP has plenty to boast about, helping students earn 12,000 degrees in STEM fields since 1994, with 350 those being PhDs. According to LSAMP’s website, students nurtured by the organization earn more than 500 bachelor’s degrees each year. Cox believes part of the secret is recruiting students early in high school and encouraging them to take lab classes during their freshman year. LSAMP also focuses on introducing minority students to careers they might never have heard of. For his tireless work, Cox will receive the College-Level Promotion of Education award at the Black Engineer of the Year Awards in Washington, D.C. next month. Cox told Erikson, “The award thing is not as important to me. My reward is seeing students walk across the stage, dispelling any previous misconceptions.”
MORE: Meet the Groups Trying to Diversify Silicon Valley