Welcome to the second of my four-part interview with Elizabeth Spears. We truly appreciate all of the comments and feedback from the first “edition” of E+E Leader’s C-Suite Series. During part two, Elizabeth answers the question, “Have you ever received a request or a problem from a client that, made you go ‘wow this is a lot to take in?” And then, we jump into the topic of STEM opportunities in education and the importance of exposing children, especially girls, to tech-based careers and role models from an early age.
The Future of Commercial Kitchens
JH: Have you ever received a request or a problem from a client that, made you go ‘wow this is a lot to take in. We’re going to need to bring in a big team to solve this.”
ES: One of the jokes that we (Carlos, Logan, and I) make internally is that Logan is often someone who just says, “yes” and then no matter what figures out how to deliver. He is highly reliable and sometimes we really rely on that sort of brilliance from our CTO, our partner.
A project that we’re currently working on is establishing a live inventory management system for commercial kitchens. One of the challenges is reconciling the inventory from many cameras in different locations throughout the kitchen. We needed our partner to completely scramble the cooler so that our system could record data to make sure that the model was really recognizing the right inventory as opposed to just memorizing the location of the items. One of the things that I really love about that project, which is relevant to you, is sustainability, and being able to introduce computer vision where it can be relevant to sustainability, especially in these bigger enterprise projects where no one thought it was relevant or possible.
Suppose having a live visual understanding of all of your inventory, understanding the freshness of your produce, and subsequently prioritizing what needs to be ordered, leading to less food waste.
JH: Food waste is such a huge concern at the global level
ES: Exactly, We often come across problems that we never considered when starting a project. Many times, our team is in the thick of it and by making a few tweaks to our program we can solve additional needs of our client.
JH: I’m sure that that is just so exciting. Such a relevant project that you’re working on because it can be used worldwide. The technology can be used at so many different levels to help reduce costs and overall food waste.
JH: Okay, let’s move on to a topic that is extremely important to you, and to me. STEM opportunities. I like to tell people that I was a teacher for ten and a half years in my previous life. I started at the high school level and finished as a Kindergarten Teacher. My personal and professional opinion is that STEM options are not widely available to every demographic and there are not nearly enough opportunities for girls. I’ve definitely seen an uptake in programs over the past thirty years. When I was in elementary school we didn’t have science, math, or engineering clubs. I don’t know about you but when I type in ‘STEM activities or STEM gifts’ on Amazon’s app, most of the options are marketed towards boys.
How do you think your upbringing, your education, and the lack of STEM resources impacted your career path?
ES: This is so important to talk about. I think a lot of research is starting to get at the root causes for the lack of women in tech today in addition to the challenges that women are faced with when they enter the workforce. There are long-held social and cultural forces that are stubbornly ingrained in society and take a lot of time and effort to change and make right. Data that is coming out of research shows that girls drop out of STEM classes in middle school and then, and then it progresses from there.
My experience was really outside the norm. I was incredibly fortunate to have a female role model. My mother was a scientist and an entrepreneur. She worked at the USDA, later built a plant science lab in our barn, and launched her own company. For me, it was a combination of seeing that that’s how it was done. That’s what women did. I saw her and her entomologist friends, and while I would never argue the merits of the yearly entomology potluck that I was forced to go to with chocolate-covered crickets, fried bugs, and other items I was expected to eat, it instilled a perception that this was normal. Women did work in STEM. I had the support of someone who was a scientist and in my experience, there are very few things more impactful than observing a single person with expertise working in a subject area that is outside the “norm.”
JH: It’s so wonderful that you had your mom, an incredible role model for you. I’m so grateful that my kids have similar role models. My daughter is in 3rd grade and while she liked math before this year it wasn’t her favorite subject in school. My son, on the other hand, is 6 and can do multi-step multiplication problems – it just comes naturally to him. Anyway, my daughter’s teacher is a former middle school math teacher, and Mrs. Price has completely transformed and altered my child’s view and love of math. She solves math problems on her whiteboard in her room and it’s just it’s so nice to see how much one person can truly impact a child.
ES: Yes! And I’ve said this before, but, I think it is really important in our society, not just only valuing STEM jobs. There’s a lot of research on what types of jobs women naturally gravitate to versus men, and traditionally those are valued less. I think there’s also a lot of work to do in understanding the value of the jobs that are not STEM Focused and making sure that we’re compensating people appropriately for them, and teaching is one of those careers.
JH: I definitely agree with you there. Staying on the topic of STEM Education – Have you partnered with any colleges or universities to offer internships to help college-age students get their foot in the door? Real-world first-hand experience to either say, “this is really what I want to do, or I’m glad I did this internship because now I know this is not the career path for me.”
Are you a student at The University of Washington? Elizabeth provides an overview of her work with the University’s Entrepreneur Program in part three of our discussion.
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E+E Leader’s C-Suite Series highlights advice, best practices, lessons learned, etc. from executives in the environmental, energy management, and sustainability C&I Fields. Over the next year, our readers will have the opportunity to view first-hand advice from C-Suite Executives across a variety of industries. The conversations will be informational, and personable. You’re sure to take away invaluable advice, strategies, and tips to help you grow as an individual, professional, and entrepreneur.