Updated: Dec 14, 2022
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The women of STEM are not just a handful of people in lab coats, they include extraordinary individuals who are changing the planet. This podcast series features those women who have been personally impacted by STEM, like Shermaine Perry-Knights from Innovation Consultants of DeKalb.
In this session, Shermaine Perry Knights explore systemic thinking, processes are kings, and how feedback is key. She is welcomed as a guest with a strong academic background and proven success taking STEM as a woman of color. They will be talking about her work in mentoring and developing other women, as well as collaborating with girls and young women in STEM. Shermaine has had an extensive career in education, specifically STEM, but she is also Innovative Consultants of DeKalb’s founder and chief learning officer. Her other responsibilities include training and instructional design for Fulton County Government. An engaging educator and workforce development coach, she loves creating aha moments and learning solutions.
The podcast “STEMming in Stilettos with Dr. Toshia” was created by Dr. Natoshia Anderson an inspiring, phenomenal, and founder of Natoshia Anderson Consulting. As a former mechanical engineer, Dr. Natoshia Anderson is now a STEM educator and advocate for STEM gender equity and diversity, a STEM leadership consultant, and a dynamic and insightful STEM motivational speaker and podcast host (STEMming in Stilettos TM). She offers STEM keynote/motivational speaking services to organizations, associations, corporations, conferences, and educational systems nationwide, as well as professional and leadership development coaching. When she is not reading romance novels or binge-watching Netflix, Dr. Anderson can be found watching a good show on Netflix.
As Shermaine wears a strategic business partner hat throughout this blog, she will be answering questions regarding process improvement and employee development. She will be doing this in her combined roles of an instructional designer, project manager, senior trainer, teacher, and facilitator, offering advice to executives on process improvement and employee development. By peers and colleagues, Shermaine is considered a leader in her talent development career.
Shermaine says “My STEM story in a nutshell. Having always been a Science Math and Engineering person, as my career developed, I initially thought I would develop effective policies, organize everything, and streamline everything. However, I then realized I did not need to do that. What I can do is work to make them more efficient but once you have done that, you start picking apart across the process, just really building things. You still must educate individuals on what that looks like because what I found through all my different turns and twists within a career is that in learning processes, keen not content process, right and so, I had to go right back to STEM, and I said, Okay, how do you lay out the process?
How do you create sections and then build and most importantly, make them digestible for anyone to understand within my career, I have worked as a project manager I have worked as an educator within higher ed and in the middle school environment, shout out to middle school! If you want to learn how to facilitate a discussion with thirty conversations happening at the same time, and multiple distractions at the same time, Middle School is the place it has taught me so much and so now my career has evolved where I am teaching managers how to become leaders. There is a difference. I am helping to improve the bottom line and organization and most importantly, 2020 has encouraged me to remember nothing else. That flexibility is everything, celebrating the diversity of thought, diversity of opinion, diversity, and action and again, it always goes back to the science and art of how you deliver anything, and I said I am going to pivot and become an author this year. So that was the most recent turn in my career.”
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Dr. Toshia relates “We've known each other for a while, and we were part of a startup group here where we are, that came together to think through how to bring together STEM and STEAM organizations in our state. Shermaine was a member of the team that, we accomplished this, and I think we were ahead of our time because we were doing that, like seven or eight years ago, and that in her policy mind helped us think through processes and procedures and how we needed to do things so even back then that was always a par even back then. What is the history of how you arrived in the West, and what are their level processes and policies?
Shermaine adds “it goes back to the mid-nineties. I can say that several years ago, I remember reading about it when we lived overseas, and I remember reading about a gentleman who killed the breadwinner of a family. I know that is a terrible story, but what I took from it, they wanted to impose jail time. I cannot remember where this was in the world, but the story sticks out in my mind, and it is relevant I thought to myself, as a child, I said, well, why would they do that when the process really should be? He takes care of that family until everyone can care for themselves and I always thought, more so an unconventional process to achieve the same means, but to have a hugely different process in place and so that's just kind of how my mind is always worked. If people say why I say why not? Why not this, why not that which is it's not always celebrated but you get a different thought at the table, and you can build from there and so the process is just having a different thought with the process has always been my background and I said, I wouldn't be a lawyer and I said, wait a minute, let's change that. Oh, I am going to be an engineer. I said, wait a minute, I can change I can influence these fields. If I work within learning development because everything goes back to feedback.
How are you giving and receiving feedback? Any field, any job, any process? What does the feedback look like? I said I want to be a person who can influence feedback and help others understand how that can improve their processes, improve their bottom line, and improve their strategic initiatives. I just fell in love with learning itself, just the field. I said I want to use that, and I tried to mirror my love of policy and love of learning together and said, how can I use these two things to advance STEM education to advance government to advance anything that I'm working in and so I just kind of, I didn't know it was considered a pivot then. I just want to try this area over here and see if this will work and this led me to work on the technical column as an adjunct. Let us pivot again, in the same field, but turn a little bit more so that I can understand how policy works within K12. Let us turn a little bit more and see how I can use that to work with local elections and to work in community advocacy. Each of my jobs has just been a small pivot within learning and policy and as you said, we were ahead of our time. This idea of bringing like-minded people together at the table because it is necessary to solve a problem. It was unheard of but now this is the crux of every organization, at least those that are highly successful.”
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Dr. Toshia says “Yes, I would agree with that. I think what we were attempting to do was it is still needed. I think Atlanta which is where we are is such a special and special in both ways that you can mean special is such a special place because there is a lot of STEM work happening here. There just is within our schools there is a certification process that's led by our State Board of Education and by Advanced Ed which they have a new name now called Insignia or something like that, which I don't know why they changed but so there's that happening in lots of schools all over the state are participating are in the process, are in the pipeline of becoming certified or accredited. Depending upon which one of these two you decide to go down. There are a lot of non-profits and for-profit organizations that have embraced STEM ideals and are bringing stem to most areas of the population here. Businesses and Industries understand the importance of STEM and how it helps them meet their bottom line. They understand it. I think our issue has been then and is still now that we have not figured out how we need to work together. I just do not think we have done that.
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Shermaine continues “You're right. Most organizations and industries work in Silos. Everyone works just on their one thing, one initiative that fits but as we start to talk and we are mirroring products, and STEM together, we are understanding that to truly impact the bottom line, you must have a system thinking approach. You must understand how this snowball this tiny little flake affects the greater good, how the butterfly effect of one minor change impacts the future. As we start to bring like-minded people together, different industries around the same table will truly understand that one initiative touches the entire organization and the community, and the stakeholders. We were far ahead of our time, and I would say even where I am now working. I like to have these notable examples. I will say well let us talk about buying a pair of sneakers. Oh, I love you know, children love sneakers, Mia loves sneakers. Let us talk about policy around and elect policy. I have this great graphic I will share with you, and I will say yes to this idea of buying shoes. There are some safety regulations around it, which means someone is involved at the federal level.
There are some safety regulations in the store which means local law enforcement involved. Let us talk about pricing that sales tax. Let us talk about we are talking about labor, and labor laws because someone had to make it and then we are thinking How many hours did they work? Were they covered? If somebody got hurt was OSHA involved? All those pieces, not including the community and the dollar surrounding and the science behind the design of a pair of shoes. Go what are you talking about? Think about the science, and the varied materials used to build this item. Then the art. The design itself, right? Let us talk about the math there is a certain algorithm I am sure someone must use to make sure you do not just topple over when you wear a pair of shoes, right? They must sustain a level of weight they do think about it. One small item is connected to all industries and multiple levels of government may say wait a minute. That is it. We must get outside of this SILO approach. We do not work individually. We work in teams and every organization can only achieve its goals. If we recognize that.”
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Dr. Toshia adds “I really love that and that is the way of it in STEM anyway, now I am a former engineer, and I can tell you having worked in the industry for over almost 10 years, that we did not do anything alone. I mean, of course, everyone does their work but like we worked on teams, and there was a team of engineers, technicians, CAD people, there were architects there were the people who control the budget, there was a project manager, all of us worked together as a team to ensure that, the client got what they wanted and that was all the way around, even if, I think kids these days hate working in teams because there's always somebody who's not going to, to fulfill their part of the bargain but I love the way that you presented that argument and did not have an argument the story that, one pair of sneakers has all of these people that have to work together to ensure that this shoe gets made but not only does it get made, but it also gets advertised somebody it gets distributed to someone store and someone to force someone to purchase. A sneaker is not just a sneaker you know there is a bigger picture to it.”
The consequences of bad feedback are significant. Your customers will not tell you what they think and then you find yourself a "lonely hero woefully fighting the odds." One of the most important things that people do not realize in life and business is that if you do not take a moment to sit back and reflect, daily, on what is happening in your life, then you are going to run down a road of endless mediocrity. Mediocre relationships. Mediocre friendships. A mediocre job. And most importantly a mediocre life.
If you love writing, stories, and community then please take a few minutes to listen in to this podcast episode. You will come away empowered because it is not what you experience but how you share the journey. The link to this podcast episode is added below:
STEMming in Stilettos with Dr. Toshia " Meet Shermaine Perry Knights: Systems Thinking; Processes are King; The Gift of Feedback”
I hope that sharing the story will help others who are struggling with the same thing!