People's Liberty Summer Resident Emily (aka EVP) had the pleasure of sitting down with Project Grantee alum Kai Stoudemire-Williams this past week to learn more about Kai's new project, Tech Needs Us, her collaboration with another Project Grantee alum, Mark Mussman, and the importance of working on your passions. Read on for the inspirational story you need this week.
Q: Tell me about your 2016 Project Grant “Curiouser”?
A: [Curiouser was] a career exploration project for high school students. It was an opportunity for young people to explore non-traditional career paths that they might not typically learn about within the classroom. The students that participated were able to explore industries like design and fashion, as well as jobs that are within P&G and City Hall. My intent was to highlight some of these non-traditional jobs that make our economy run and expose students to the abundance of opportunities.
Q: Can you tell me a little about Tech Needs Us and what sparked your interest in the project?
A: Over the past 5–7 years I’ve been really interested in technology and engineering—the whole STEM field really. But, I was never given the opportunity to explore these careers, and it certainly wasn't a path I could take in high school. If that had been the case, I definitely would have gone down one of those paths. When I was running Curiouser, parents would tell me that they didn’t have programs like this when they were growing up and I felt the same way. Hearing those parents is really what sparked my interest and made me think about offering something for older people, who aren’t in high school, but who may be interested in technology and building apps—people who don’t have anywhere to express that or a space to explore those interests.
Q: Can you tell me a story that demonstrates the heart of the work you do?
A: I was asked to speak at Clark Montessori earlier this year for Career Day. I was sharing with the senior class—I mentioned my day job, working for GE full-time— but I really spoke to going after your passion. My passion is what inspires me to work at my day job, but it also inspires me to do more outside of work. I mentioned I had a non-profit organization and how I don’t get paid to do it but it brings me so much joy and fulfillment to my life. I was talking about the students I worked with and the first classes I had. I continued to talk and asked if anyone had any questions and there was one kid who asked, “Do you still run the summer camp at UC?” He was one of the kids from one of my first classes! I almost started crying. He’s [now] about to graduate and he still talks about the summer program. That brought it full circle. It meant so much to me to see that he was graduating high school and doing so well.
Q: You are collaborating with another Project Grantee alum Mark Mussman. Why did you reach out to Mark?
A: I was trying to find someone that could help me with the curriculum because I had the idea for the project, but I don't know much about technology or how to teach and facilitate it. A lightbulb went off and I thought, “Why don’t I ask [the People’s Liberty staff]?” They said, “Oh, you should partner with Mark!” We just clicked instantly and I felt like I had known him for years! We get along really well so it’s been a really good partnership.
Q: Do you imagine developing either of these projects into a full-time gig?
A: I wrote on my dry erase board at my desk at the end of last year, “December 1, 2018.” For me, that was a date that I wanted to start transitioning out of corporate. When I hosted Curiouser last summer, I was here for seven weeks, two to three days a week. When the program was up, I missed having the flexibility of my schedule and the fulfillment that I had gotten from the program. GE has been an organization for 100+ years and their legacy is in place, but the joy and fulfillment that I get building my own legacy is a totally different feeling. That inspired me with Tech Needs Us and other projects that I will work on. They are stepping stones into me doing work for myself.
Q: How has having the support of People’s Liberty enabled your projects?
A: My sister lives in New York and does the same type of work. I always tell her, “I don’t know how you survive without them!” They are ingrained in everything I do on a daily basis. Even when I had my son, they sent a [People’s Liberty] onesie. I had told my sister weeks before that I wanted to get him a People’s Liberty onesie made for him because I’m always here. The resources are out of this world. Like the connection with Mark; it helps me not have to reinvent the wheel. Just being in this space alone inspires me. Every time I come I’m like, “Okay, what can I create? What can I do?” I’m constantly wanting to build and create. People’s Liberty does a lot for me.
It's always a pleasure sitting down with grantees! Stay tuned for more stories about the inspirational folks at People's Liberty.