Saturday, May 14, 2016

Congrats to Kelley Williams

With her co-founder (who happens to be her mom), Williams launched a company that aims to make science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, classes straightforward and fun for elementary school kids. So far, Paige & Paxton has inked contracts with 16 school districts across the country.
Q: You had a great career in New York working as an assistant vice president for social media at JPMorgan Chase. What made you decide to move back home to Evanston to start Paige & Paxton?
A: I’m a third-generation entrepreneur; it’s in my genes. My parents always encouraged my sister and me to figure out how to make an idea work. When I was in high school at Evanston Township, my sister, who was in middle school at the time, became really good at making balloon animals. Being the capitalist that I am, I decided, “Hey, we can make some money off this.” One day we were handing out fliers on the street and decided to take a break at Flat Top Grill. The manager saw our balloon-animal hats and said he was looking for entertainment on the weekends. By the time our mom picked us up, we had a deal. I was like, “Mom, how do you write a contract?”
Q: How did your experience as a founding member of the New York chapter of Black Girls Code plant the seed for your company?
A: Through these STEM pipelining programs, I was working with middle school and high school kids. I realized that the programs themselves were absolutely amazing and the kids were proficient, but it was a big challenge to get them to see themselves in STEM fields down the road. Even after they learned the skills, a lot of kids continued to say, “Oh, I’m not that good at math” or “I’m not technical enough.” There was a confidence issue. The kids who did really well were the ones whose parents had already prepped them; they were already on that path. So I realized we needed to start a lot earlier.
Q: Chicago Public Schools signed on as Paige & Paxton’s first client in 2013. How did that deal happen?
A: We were at Wicker Park Fest, and the director of early college and career education for CPS was there. She said the district was encountering a lot of the same problems we had noticed: They had invested a lot in STEM curriculum at the high school level, but students weren’t opting in, or they were dropping out. They went to middle school students and realized the problem starts even earlier. So at that point they were converting a ton of elementary schools to STEM schools, and they needed help creating the curriculum for younger kids.
Q: Paige & Paxton recently started hosting real-life “make-a-thons” for kids and their parents. How do these events tie in to your mission?
A: They’re a combination of a hack-a-thon and a Maker Faire (an event that celebrates the DIY mindset) geared toward young children. It’s a full day of science and engineering challenges, and we make sure the parents stay. We don’t want them to just drop the kids off and think, “I hope they come home smart.” We talk to the parents about how to integrate the concepts at home and how to get kids comfortable with failing. And we actually bring in STEM professionals—if it’s an engineering challenge, we have a civil engineer leading it. It helps kids overcome misconceptions about the type of people who like STEM. They aren’t all awkward and pale!

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