Creating fireworks: Sparking student imagination through company connections

This is part of a blog series that focuses on how the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation approaches impact investing. In this series, you will read about the foundation’s investment strategy in a particular ed tech solution, and each company’s mission to solve an existing problem in education. You can find the full series here.

Jami O’Toole: Increasing relevance and engagement in the classroom

Every year, 1.2 million students drop out of high school in the United States. Data collected by the National Center for Education Statistics shows that more than half of them are students of color, and most are low-income students who are six times more likely to drop out than their higher-income counterparts. They have little hope of securing employment that provides a living wage. More than 66 percent of students who drop out are unemployed or do not participate in the labor force. Even those who are fortunate enough to find employment have a median income of $24,000 a year, which is less than the federal poverty level for a family of four. A bleak outlook indeed for those students who do not stay engaged and complete high school.

Lack of engagement in the classroom and lack of relevance of the school work are key factors that lead to students dropping out. A study commissioned by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation found that 47 percent of students who drop out do so because they could not see the relevance of school. Eighty-one percent of dropout students surveyed in the study indicated schools could prevent dropouts by making school more engaging through real-world, experiential learning – this was the leading factor cited by dropout students.

The foundation invested in Nepris because the company provides a way for teachers in every classroom to connect students with industry professionals to make instruction relevant to the real world and connect academic concepts with real-world examples. I had the pleasure of seeing Nepris in action in several classrooms. It was fantastic to see a group of bi-lingual elementary school students engage with a financial consultant in Argentina who taught the class about markets and trade. The students lit up during the session and couldn’t stop asking questions. They even helped the professional with some Spanish vocabulary as the professional was learning Spanish as a second language. Nepris is removing the barriers to making instruction relevant and exciting for students.

The foundation invested in Nepris because the company provides a way for teachers in every classroom to connect students with industry professionals to make instruction relevant to the real world and connect academic concepts with real-world examples.

Sabari Raja: Bringing education to life

When we launched Nepris in 2013, Binu Thayamkery (co-founder) and I had a vision of bringing industry engagement to every classroom. We had some inkling of what was possible through the platform, but we did not anticipate that teachers and companies alike would grab this idea and build on it in such creative and exciting ways.

We knew then (as we know even more strongly now) that there was a strong case for bridging the gap between classroom learning and the real world. In a Harris Interactive Study, the researchers found that 57 percent of boys and 68 percent of girls who ended up working in technology as adults had been inspired to pursue those careers by one person, one event or one class. Many of us can attest to one moment of inspiration that sparked a fire and eventually led to our own fulfilling careers.

This is what Nepris is seeking to create. Sparks. Even, fireworks. Our mission is to make students jump out of their seat with excitement. When they talk to a researcher who is perfecting a heart pump or a Disney Imagineer designing the latest Harry Potter amusement ride, sparks fly. Nepris’ goal is to ensure that no child goes through school without experiencing a profound Ah-HA moment which sinks into their heart and drives them to something they will enjoy doing for the rest of their lives.

Nepris started out of a real need we saw in every community: Workforce development, economic development, industry, higher education and K12 all working together to find ways to bridge the skills gap. But, what was lacking was a scalable technology platform to open these doors and inspire kids everywhere, but perhaps more importantly in urban, rural and lower socio economic settings. As more states create new Career and Technical Education pathways because they too recognize the need for a comprehensive plan to open doors to careers, the need for connecting businesses to the classroom becomes an even greater necessity. And, it is one that many schools struggle to implement.

“In one year alone, we have successfully connected 57 businesses with classrooms not only across our parishes, but across the nation. Nepris is an incredible marketing and recruiting platform for business engagement in education, a key lever for economic development in terms of business retention and expansion.” – Ashley Aleman, Greater New Orleans Economic Development

Today Nepris has expanded from the original idea of simply facilitating face-to-face virtual discussions between students and professionals to being the largest online marketplace for industry and education collaboration. Now, there are Shark Tanks, project mentoring, virtual field trips and project evaluation sessions. We’ve also flipped the tables so that in addition to teachers requesting sessions to fit their needs, industry groups and companies can proactively offer sessions on a particular topic. Hundreds of classrooms sign up for these which we now offer nearly every day of the year covering over 100+ career clusters.

I am excited to see where Nepris will be next year and I know our teachers, students and partners will continue to innovate as we grow with their ideas.

Sabari  Raja is the co-founder of fast growing edtech company, Nepris Inc, a first of its kind cloud based platform connecting industry and education. She has worked in education technology for 18 years leading product and content strategy, business development, publisher relations, and emerging market growth strategies. She is passionate about working with educators to translate their needs into scalable technology solutions. She is on the Champions board of Texas Girls Collaborative and has a special interest in engaging girls in STEM.

Other blogs in this series:

Putting the ‘impact’ back in impact investing

Early impact investing lessons in ed tech

Ed tech: Filling a market gap for English Language Learner educators

Using data to run great schools