Geek of the Week

Geek of the Week: Washington STEM CEO Caroline King promotes alternative via training

Caroline King
Caroline King started her career as a teacher. (Photo courtesy of Caroline King)

Caroline King has devoted her career to giving young people better access to economic opportunity, particularly through education.

Seven years ago, she co-founded Washington STEM, and today serves as the CEO of the nonprofit. King is GeekWire’s latest Geek of the Week.

“Washington STEM helps bring the best science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education to all Washington students,” King said. “We are especially focused on youth historically underrepresented in STEM fields like students of color, female students, students living in poverty, and students living in rural areas.”

King, who started her career as a teacher at a school focused on technology and social justice in Ecuador, studied anthropology at the University of Notre Dame. She went on to get a Master of Education at Harvard University and spent four years as a research associate in Boston where she was a founding member of the Public Education Leadership Project.

King grew up in the other Washington and outside of work, she loves spending time camping, skiing and cooking with her husband Eric and her two sons, Charlie, 10, and Russell, 8.

Learn more about this week’s Geek of the Week, Caroline King:

What do you do, and why do you do it? “I’m incredibly invested in helping young people across Washington state achieve their dreams and apply their passions to solving the world’s most challenging problems. STEM is the best bet to a life of opportunity and purpose.”

What’s the single most important thing people should know about your field? “STEM is everywhere — agriculture, aerospace and technology just to name a few favorite Washington industries — and should be for everyone. But too many rural or low-income schools don’t have the technology tools or trained teachers to offer a high-quality STEM education. There is no silver bullet but Washington state — a leader in STEM job creation — has all the right ingredients to be a leader in universal STEM education and preparing a diverse and world-class workforce, and we won’t rest at Washington STEM until that is a reality.”

Where do you find your inspiration? “I find my inspiration from the young people I meet every day. Jasmine James, for example, is a software engineering student at Yakima Valley College and a volunteer for our Engineering Fellows program, where engineering professionals go into classrooms to support fifth graders in exploring real-life engineering challenges. Jasmine, a woman of color who is a first-generation college student, is so excited to help young girls see they can change the world through STEM. It’s my job to help every young person growing up in Washington has an army of mentors like Jasmine invested in their success.”

What’s the one piece of technology you couldn’t live without, and why? “An apple. Yes, the fruit. There’s so many STEM skills needed before an apple reaches your lunch bag! Botanists breed the best tasting apples. Orchard technicians design orchards that bear the maximum quality and quantity of fruit and then they fly drones over the orchards to monitor the health of the apple crops. Engineers develop advanced manufacturing robots to sort and package apples. Food scientists determine food safety issues. All of that is happening right in eastern Washington!”

Caroline King
Caroline King’s desk is positioned in the middle of all the action at Washington STEM. (Photo courtesy of Caroline King)

What’s your workspace like, and why does it work for you? “My workspace is a desk right in the middle of our open office. I like sitting right in the mix. We have an amazing team and I like being around people to exchange ideas quickly.”

Your best tip or trick for managing everyday work and life. (Help us out, we need it.) “Morning exercise. Yoga, a 15-minute walk around the block, or a barre class gets my energy up and gets me ready for the day.

“And my other tip — make sure you spend your work day doing something you love with people who challenge and support you to be your best.”

Mac, Windows or Linux? “Combo — I can’t live without my Surface or my iPhone.”

Kirk, Picard, or Janeway? “She’s better than a captain, she’s a princess! ‘Black Panther’s’ Shuri from Wakanda. Now that’s a woman in STEM!”

Transporter, Time Machine or Cloak of Invisibility? “Time machine. I’d love to fast forward and meet my great-grandchildren and go back and meet my great-grandparents.”

If someone gave me $1 million to launch a startup, I would … “Start Washington STEM — that’s what I did in 2011 when I launched an organization that brought business, philanthropic and education leaders together to work on the common goal of making high-quality STEM education available to every young person growing up in Washington. And if someone gave me an extra million dollars right now, I’d invest it in the work our ten regional STEM Networks are doing to support students get inspired and prepared for great careers. In the next year, 29,000 young people are getting connected with internships, apprenticeships, job-shadows, and other opportunities to learn about and train for exciting jobs in high-demand STEM industries. We would make every dollar of that $1M go further faster because we have learning labs and a platform for scale that reaches from Spokane to Skagit, Tri-Cities to Tacoma and everywhere in between.”

I once waited in line for … “The March for Our Lives to begin. I was honored to march this weekend in Seattle with my kids, their friends, and my son’s fifth grade teacher.”

Your role models: “My role model is my father, Bob Richard, who passed away in 2016. My dad grew up in a farming community and was the first in his family to go beyond the third grade. His education motivated him to help others, which he did through his long and successful career in banking — he always said his motivation was to help people on Main Street, not Wall Street. He taught me to be open to the world around me, to be a loving parent, and to always learn new things from everyone I meet.”

Greatest game in history: “I’m not much of a gamer but Washington STEM staff are obsessed with ‘Stardew Valley’ and want me to give a shout out to the game in this column. They also say ‘make fishing easier’ whatever that means.”

First computer: “Apple iie.”

Current phone: “An iPhone 6s.”

Favorite app: “Hamilton. I’m obsessed with winning the $10 lottery tickets — no luck yet — but at least I’m learning a lot of great Hamilton-inspired trivia.”

Favorite cause: “Other than STEM education I strongly support environmental sustainability. I’m particularly inspired by the students behind Juliana v. U.S. Their lawsuit says that government actions exacerbate climate change and violate the youngest generation’s constitutional rights to life and liberty.”

Most important technology of 2016: “My husband Eric joined the Amazon Alexa team in 2016. Ask me about when my son asked Alexa to add the Lego Millennium Falcon to our grocery list.”

Most important technology of 2018: “Do me a favor and Google the new Cosmic Crisp apple — brought to you by scientists at Washington State University.”

Final words of advice for your fellow geeks: “The business community has a big part to play in making STEM education successful. If you’re interested in supporting Washington students, consider ways to bring students into your workplace. Students can’t pursue careers they don’t know about, and your encouragement will go a long way! The next Geek of the Week is in a Washington classroom — let’s go discover and mentor her.”

Website: Washington STEM

Twitter: @washingtonstem

LinkedIn: Caroline King

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