Synopsis: Lisa Andrew, CEO and President of the Silicon Valley Education Foundation, has dedicated her career to ensuring under-represented students achieve their full potential. Read more here about her background and why the work of SVEF is so important.
Skills in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) have never been in greater demand than they are today. Not only do they demonstrate problem solving and critical thinking, they’re essential for survival in a global, digital economy that depends on innovation. But time and time again research shows that America’s students of colour are missing out on STEM opportunities, with Latinx graduates at 12% and black graduates at just 8% of the national average.
A 2018 study found that a quarter of US high schools with high numbers of Black and Latinx students still didn’t teach Algebra II – which is an essential requirement for acceptance on STEM courses – while a third failed to offer Chemistry. This puts young people of colour at an even greater disadvantage, and the world of science and tech is still largely run by white, middle class men. Lisa Andrew of the Silicon Valley Education Foundation (SVEF) has dedicated her career to redressing the balance, and giving students from underrepresented backgrounds the opportunity to share their brilliance with the world.
A passionate advocate for human rights and diversity, Lisa herself grew up in an under-resourced community and was the eldest daughter in an abusive home environment, so she already knew how it felt to struggle. But spending time with her Hispanic and African American friends made her realise that even in her difficult circumstances she was still afforded the opportunities that come with being white and middle class. Today, as the wife of an African American and the mother of mixed race children, she knows only too well the challenges and discrimination that go hand in hand with being a person of colour.
Lisa is President and CEO of the SVEF, a leading provider of STEM Education for students furthest from access and opportunity. Based in the heart of Silicon Valley in California’s San Jose, the foundation inspires under-represented students to realise their full potential and go on to enjoy successful careers in science and technology.
As the home of a host of global tech companies including Facebook, Apple and Google, Silicon Valley is a mecca for brilliant minds with world changing ideas. It’s an area that’s renowned for its forward thinking and innovation, but diversity statistics still show that there’s a lot of work to be done. A report by the Kapor Center for Social Impact found that while 21% of computer science graduates are Black or Latinx, they still only take up about 10% of technical roles in the big tech companies. Conversely, a huge 97% of the founders of tech startups and their financial backers are White or Asian.
Since its inception over two decades ago, SVEF has supported more than 27,000 students and supports young people and educators in over 60 school districts, forging long lasting relationships with corporations and other non-profit organisations dedicated to challenging the status quo.
SVEF convenes the East Side Alliance, an educational community dedicated to preparing students for a lifetime of success in Silicon Valley. Through the alliance, SVEF is closing the achievement gap and accelerating grades among African American and Latinx students, helping educators across the region find ways to reach and support students.
We spoke to Lisa about her achievements, motivations and what her work means to her.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I am a visionary leader who sees possibilities and is not afraid to dream big. I am driven by a mission based on equitable access and thrive when working on goals focused on economic mobility. I work to inspire others and provide coaching and mentorship to assist the team in realizing their potential. When the team is successful, we can accomplish our goals, fulfill our mission, and realize our vision.
What motivates you to go to work every day?
The eyes of all the students looking at me and saying “I showed up today …are you going to show up and teach me something?” The economic mobility of Silicon Valley is dependent on educators providing access to quality educational experiences and ensuring students have the opportunity to succeed. My job is to expect the educational system to provide each student with what they need and support the system in delivery.
You’re clearly a very inspirational woman.. who inspires you?
I have had incredible educators in my life. Two middle school teachers, an amazing college professor, and several education administrators who guided me in reaching my full potential. Each of these women had high expectations for me and provided guard rails while I made mistakes and found my way. They encouraged me to discover and embrace my authentic self and then surround myself with others that fill-in my blind spots. My celebrity crush is Michelle Obama. I admire her authenticity and appreciate how she navigates the different facets of her life, including her fashion sense!
Congratulations on your BWM Award. What does it mean to you, and what message would you like to share with your peers?
I want to thank my colleagues for recognizing my tenacity as an asset to our profession and my family and friends for truly seeing me, Lisa, and still loving me anyway!
The bible tells us that to those that much is given, much is expected. Because I look and sound like our white middle class educational system, I have a privilege that others don’t have. My white privilege gets me access and opportunities that I don’t even have to ask for. As white educators it is our responsibility to advocate, and fight at times, to ensure that everyone in our system, child and adult, is seen, recognized for their value and given a chance to build and attain their dreams. As part of this responsibility, I am asking others to join me in valuing diversity.
It is my hope that my story inspires people to recognize their responsibility in ensuring equity, whether it be having the courage to open doors for those who traditionally have not been given access or having the courage to walk through a door that is opened for you. This can not be a one woman show. It must be a production where each of us is playing a part.
You can read more about Lisa Andrew and SVEF’s groundbreaking work on the organisation’s website, https://www.svefoundation.org/