Welcome to the Stemify Podcast
Episode 1

Welcome to the Stemify Podcast

Guest: Amit Savkar

In this introductory episode, Dr. Amit Savkar welcomes you to the podcast, shares more about the problems we face in STEM and the opportunities and promises that exist by fixing them. He shares his background as a mathematics professor at the University of Connecticut with a Ph.D in Mechanical Engineering. Ultimately, he invites you to join the conversation to improve student success in STEM.

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Welcome to the Stemify Podcast

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Amit Savkar:
Hello, everyone. This is Amit Savkar. I’m the CEO of Stemify. Just a quick background.

Amit Savkar:
I am actually a professor in residence at the University of Connecticut in the Mathematics Department.

Amit Savkar:
I have a PhPh.D.in Mechanical Engineering and I also have currently a master’s in Education Psychology with emphasis on measurement, evaluation and assessment. And I’ve been teaching mathematics in the university for over 13 years. And today I’m actually starting a podcast to discuss AIM. And by aim, I mean access, initiative and motivation. By these three words have an incredible breadth and depth in education. It is also important that these words carry a lot of weight in different verticals that I see in the different educational spaces that we have. I have invited Saul Marquez to be the host and the guest for this first podcast. He has hosted over 600 podcasts in his lifetime of interviewing various experts in health care industry. And today he’s taking a deep dive into an industry which he has always had a passion for and gets more deeply on various issues that have not only surfaced during the pandemic, but also in many cases, amplified the need to have a conversation to find a meaningful path forward. Today, we’ll talk about AIM to improve and stabilize education for all.

Saul Marquez:
Amit, thank you so much for the invitation to be part of your kick-off. It’s truly an honor, having seen a lot of the work being done behind the scenes at Stemify to help stabilize and improve education. I’m inspired by the theme of access, initiative and motivation. And I’d love to dive into some of the aspects of that with you today. Can you share a little bit about your philosophy around who the important stakeholders are and what problem exists for them?

Amit Savkar:
That’s a great question, Saul. So to me, when I think about my philosophy and when it comes to the stakeholders, the first and foremost stakeholder for me is always the student. The student is at the center with everyone is providing some form of help in many different facets of what a student goes to. And when I think about stakeholders in education. Students, professors, administrators, and the community become a part of that ecosystem. Now, when I think about stakeholders, I also think about the differentiation that we have. I mean, many times you think about education as K through 12 or K to 16. But the stakeholders role and their influence on the children and students is significantly different. At K through 12 than what it is when they come into the higher education. And with that comes the different problems that exist for them. I think for many reasons that I believe access is one of the most critical aspects of what happens when you have students go to K to 16. Whether the students have had access in their early ages to an education in the form that we believe is helpful and credible becomes a big part of what they experience through their K through 12 snd then they are encountered with the higher education that they seek to get. Many times this access is the reason that the students don’t even get to the point to be able to be in a higher education setting. From that perspective, I think the problem exists on different levels with different stakeholders at different times. But at the end of the day, it is the student who feels the brunt of this the most. And in different ways, I believe.

Saul Marquez:
Yeah, that’s well said. And so as we think about the problem, how does initiative and motivation come into play there?

Amit Savkar:
Ok, let’s think about what initiative and motivation means. Let’s say that a student who is highly motivated to get further in his or her education now is at the point he takes the initiative to, let’s say, do well on his standardized tests. Let’s call it SATs, an assumption that we have made just now is they have access to taking SAT to have access to the resources that prepare them to take SATs in a meaningful way, and that they have had access to be able to perform well on that standardized test. So now you have a student who had motivation with the initiative to reach out and have the access and all three of them together made it possible for this student to take his credentials through this K to 12 into higher education. Now, that’s one case we can talk about that is successful. Believe me when I say that through my various interactions with underrepresented minority students, there is no lack of motivation. There is no lack of initiative. But it is significantly hampered by the access that they have or they haven’t had. And that is something that I want to focus on as we go through these different things that we are going to talk about. Because it is important that we make a deliberate attempt to provide access to the students who already have motivation and initiate.

Amit Savkar:
We can talk about how to create motivation and initiative, which is another separate issue. And what are the factors that influence this motivation? What are the factors that influence initiative? And whether those factors are purely cognitive. And I believe they are not. In fact, there are more noncognitive factors such as SES socioeconomic status that significantly influence, motivation, and initiative. And what that motivation and initiative as as it goes towards education can be very different from what that initiative and motivation is when the prospect is not just education, but survival. Putting food on the table, taking care of their siblings. And there are so many of those that we can go into which are noncognitive. But to say that, you know, you’ll be able to address all of them right now is not will be possible. But that’s where this AIM focus will be — to improve and stabilize education and for all of it.

Saul Marquez:
I love it. What a great analysis there and an explanation of why an AIM is the focus to help with stabilizing and improving education. If you take a step back, who would you say or what would you say is to blame for the way things are now?

Amit Savkar:
So Saul, I don’t ever like the word blame. And I’ll explain to you why. I don’t think there is room to place blame if you want to improve. Your think about instead of blame let’s talk about responsibility. And each of us. Each of us, as in the stakeholders, whether it’s students, whether it’s parents, whether it is educators such as professors and teachers, administrators, we all have a responsibility to do the right thing. Now, I’m not naive to not think that education is not a business. It is a business. No questions about it. But there are ways that we can be deliberate about making sure that we take responsibility of what we’re doing and how we are doing. It is not always going to be easy because it’s not like you know, water seeks the easiest path to the lower levels. Right. So one thing that you have to think about is while the decisions that we make and the responsibility that we take on may not be easy, we still must try consciously to think about the various aspects that have gone into being that we are good. And believe me, we are not in a complete mess. There are so many people at an individual level doing so many great things in education and that they are truly putting their heart and soul into what they want to bring as value addition to the students that they have in their classrooms, outside of the classroom, and creating curiosity and encouraging various different viewpoints. There are people who are doing that and there are plenty who are doing that. And yet we can also see on the other side that there is a lot more that can be done before the putting of blame on the system. I don’t think there is any room for putting a blame, but there is plenty of room to take responsibility and do what we can to improve and stabilize the education.

Saul Marquez:
That’s so well said, Amit. And I’m glad you reframe that because responsibility will help us get more done. And as we take that responsibility amongst ourselves, what would you say we can do to make it better?

Amit Savkar:
I think it starts with understanding what it is that our students want. We even understand whether our students understand what education stands for. What does true education mean? Is it that we are trying to make them educated? Are you correct in a certain area? Could you see the word stem in all over the place? STEM education, stem education? But what does STEM education? STEM literacy is different from STEM education. I think it is important that we focus on the education part from the philosophical point of view that students understand why they’re learning what they’re learning, and not just from the point of view of getting a grade, not just from the point of view of getting a job. It is about making what you learn count towards making a better society. Ultimately, these educators are trying to make the generation next to come and be better people in terms of how do I want to take this future of our society, which means that when we want to make it better, we need to figure out what we can do to understand how students understand what education means to them. Does that make sense?

Saul Marquez:
It makes a lot of sense. It does. And you know the approach of why. I mean, I think and reflect upon my own time at university and. You know, that question oftentimes remain unanswered and could have been more of a beacon of why versus, you know, not really knowing. And so as you think about a high-level plan that maybe we could consider, I know you guys are doing some excellent work at Stemmer. Fine with this. What would you say to that frontline faculty looking to solve this challenge? Well, with that high-level plan be?

Amit Savkar:
That’s a big question, Saul. So now I’m going to change some role here that I’m seeing. What is it that the faculty is looking for? Let’s say that the faculty is looking for teaching a particular, let’s say, subject matter to a bunch of students. I think the first thing the faculty wants to know is that what they’re teaching is being understood by the students, which means we can do assessment immediately because you know that what you have taught has been internalized by the students in the way you think it should have been internally. But when you do, that assessment becomes a very big part of what a faculty thinks of. So think about this. I went from thinking about students and faculty, the faculty perspective about assessment. Now the student is thinking about getting an assessment is given. He’s thinking he or she is thinking about the grades. But that’s not what I’m saying as a part of assessment. I think I’m saying how well are you as a faculty able to assess the knowledge that you have just imparted to your students?

Amit Savkar:
So given the current situation, that assessment component has even become even more critical. Many times you know, I get into these conversations with different faculty and they say that I had a great exam. I said, oh, really? Well, how do you know that? And they say, oh, my average was 75, 80. And I think that’s a numerical number. What does that really mean? And what does that mean for you as a faculty, that your students have an average of 75 to 80? And what does it mean to us to have gotten an AP in the class?

Amit Savkar:
So is there a mapping of what you just gave us a number to the concepts that you would have been able to see very confidently that your students who got an AP on the summative assessments have been able to solve a certain set of concepts confidently. And believe me when I say this.

Amit Savkar:
I bring in Bloom’s taxonomy here because that becomes a very important part of discussion. It is not always clear to people as to what that Bloom’s taxonomy is.

Amit Savkar:
And I would say it has taken me a long time to really understand, because it goes from the most bottom level that it seems you will remember and recall facts all the way to create, produce new or original work. So you can imagine there is such a huge set of things that have to go like your go from remembering to understanding, then to applying data, analyzing, then to evaluating and then creating. I mean, that’s a pyramid that takes time for students to get there. Right.

Amit Savkar:
But I would say for faculty, what it felt like to the focus of when and how we are teaching and how we are making this happen is very critical. It is not very simple in terms of understanding it, but it is also important from thinking about applying it to assessments.

Saul Marquez:
So you’re looking at assessment in a deeper, more rich way, far and beyond just a numerical output. You’re wanting to tie it back to specific metrics that you could clearly state where my student is and what they’re able to achieve and where they are in that taxonomy that you just described.

Amit Savkar:
I mean, that’s the goal. That’s really the goal to really pinpoint what aspects of I mean, I’m just thinking Bloom’s taxonomy as an example that are multiple different resorts that have created a lot of pathways also. But, you know, understanding how you assess student knowledge and how you even when in your instruction, how well are you creating opportunities for the students to make use of what you are saying to first understand? Which is basically to recall the facts and then to go ahead and understand and apply them to different ideas of various things about one idea, how it can be applied to different situations, like using information in a new situation, execute and implement and solve, you know, demands, create, interpret, operate and schedule. So these are some of the things that you think about when you are actually trying to ask students of how they’re understanding some, you know, not just a surface level number that says you’re right. You go an 80. That’s not it.

Saul Marquez:
Makes a lot of sense. And so assessment is big. What else would you include in that plan?

Amit Savkar:
A second right assessment is one part, I think adaptive instruction is critical. And when I say adaptive instruction, I say this from a very simple point. I’ll give you an example Saul. Let’s say that I am a student and I come to you. You’re a professor of medicine. And I start asking you questions that are probably something that I should have learned in my first year as a biology student. Let’s see. And now I’m actually doing something in medicine. What do you ever to do is you probably going to have if you’re a patient instructor, you’re going to say, okay, I see where your gaps are. I’ll give you instruction to fill those gaps. So which means my instruction, your instruction to me is different. Now, the same thing happens in my study. When I have a student comes to me and he starts solving a problem and gets it wrong, doesn’t understand something. I am not asking that student to do the entire course of Algebra one or Algebra 2 or otherwise. I’m giving him an adaptive instruction that fits his gaps in such a way that he can then proceed in a meaningful way. So those are learning pathways we’re talking about and understanding the learning pathways or assessment is a big component of this initial assessment, using an understanding of where those gaps are.

Amit Savkar:
And then you take that and you learn how to adapt your instruction as an instructor when you’re doing office hours to make sure that the student now takes the steps that will help him in the current course of action that they’re trying to answer. So that’s what I mean. Then you have assessment and then adaptive instruction. We have a good measurement, which means data analytics and measurement. So that plays an extremely critical role in when you think about this as not just one student, but one million students. So that is the individual’s footprint of an individual student. That allows you to understand what that assessment, that progression in instruction and their progress towards that goal has been. Now you take you zoom out and now you take everything at an average and start seeing how the data is interacting within itself to see differences of how students actually perform in different concepts. And how can you as an instructor, then adhere to the instruction that you need to provide these students either on an average audit, an individual basis.

Amit Savkar:
Yeah, that’s a really great way to do it. And obviously tip of the iceberg. There’s so much more that we can cover. And the good news here for everyone listening is that Amit’s, gonna be doing this on a weekly basis. He or other hosts and other guests will be here to talk about these things, the plans and the opportunity to make education better. What does the future look like if we’re successful in the shift and how we do things with online education? And what’s the cost of that progress?

Amit Savkar:
So that’s a loaded question, Saul. And I don’t think I can really provide an answer to it in the next few minutes to just, you know. But I’ll I’ll give you a idea of what a successful shift looks like in an online education. First of all, online education will always, in my opinion, be supplemental to what is in-person interaction. That, to me is priceless. Students get a lot out of in-person interaction. Whether that in-person interaction happens will fairly. That is a point to be seen. But online education has a long way to go in terms of really understanding how students learn in an online setting. There’s a lot of research that has been done. A lot of research also shows that initiative and motivation is a huge, huge factor in student success in online education. So how do we create that initiative and motivation for students? What in an online setting is a big challenge for it to be successful? And of course, everything comes with a cost. So what does that cost is for another time. But the most important thing that we are good, remember, is not all people learn the same way, which means that when we talk about online education, it’s the delivery mechanism.

Amit Savkar:
The question is, is that delivery mechanism going to be robust enough to be mature enough such that to date those students who are not good at online learning are going to find it comfortable and meaningful to be in that environment to be successful? So what that success looks like and how it will come about is going to take some time and it’s going to take some responsibility on the part of the education system to understand how it can help students who are not used to an online education delivery mechanism and yet be successful because it doesn’t feel like it’s online. It has that component that brings in the personalized attention that a student gets when that seemed. Let’s hit the beach. And more importantly, interacting with Depuis, that is the single most important thing for how this becomes successful. How do we how are we able to get that meaningful interaction in a community based learning, not just at an individual level?

Saul Marquez:
That’s insightful Amit. And, yeah, you’re you’re right. I mean, it’s not easy to tackle that on a 20-minute podcast here, but I’m really excited to hear that you and your team are making this a weekly podcast to host leaders across the educational field to share their thoughts and inspirations so that we could explore this theme of access, initiative and motivation to really look at education and stabilizing it and improving it for everyone. It’s been an honor being here with you, and I certainly have learned a lot. And I’ll be sure to continue tuning in. And for the listeners. Thank you for taking the time to tune in. And Amit, why don’t you leave us your closing thoughts here and excited to join you guys on the next one.

Amit Savkar:
Thanks, Saul. I really appreciate helping us kick off this podcast. I’m certainly excited to share again, these are my humble opinions and I don’t believe that there is one right or wrong opinion. This is about a conversation about how we can, as a community build together, moving forward to help stabilize and improve education for all.

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What you can expect from the podcast

At Stemify, we’re committed to helping your students succeed in STEM. We believe that having thought-provoking conversations with key stakeholders in education, industry, advocacy groups, and the government is a critical part of that transformation. Our goal is to inspire you to think about what STEM education could be through 15-minute interviews with industry leaders.

In this episode, Dr. Amit Savkar welcomes you to the podcast, shares more about the problems we face in STEM and the opportunities and promises that exist by fixing them. He shares his background as a mathematics Ph.D. and professor at the University of Connecticut. Ultimately, he invites you to join the conversation to improve student success in STEM.

The podcast will feature weekly experts and we look forward to having you join our community of listeners!

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