Bio: Katie is a senior at the University of Michigan studying Communications with a minor in Business Administration. She is a proud first-generation Latina woman from the northwest side of Chicago. She’s interested in a diverse number of things such as education, tech, consulting, marketing and social impact. Katie has experience teaching abroad, volunteering in her community and dancing! One day, she hopes to start her own non-profit that continues bridging the gap in educational inequality.
How’s that phrase go? Sometimes you just got to be in the right place at the right time? I used to think that this only applied to people with good luck, something I never really had a strong record of. But, somehow, someway things switched up for me. I was first introduced to Innovare not through my own personal stalking efforts, but through meeting one of the co-founders, Fernando DeLeon, at a scholarship alumni event in Chicago. I think back to that event now and remember how I had begrudgingly agreed to attend, mainly agreeing to go because I wanted to support my scholarship community. You all can imagine my surprise then when I stumbled upon Fernando among the rambunctious crowd, and he walked up and introduced himself. We hit it off connecting over our backgrounds of being Latinx and first gen at Michigan, both acknowledging the barriers students of color face at predominantly white institutions. Then I asked him the infamous “What do you do” question. He spoke about his EdTech startup called Innovare, and as he talked I remember feeling thrown off and asking myself, “things like this actually exist??” Hoping to stay in contact, I pulled out my wallet to save his business card but came to find he had an electronic business card that pinged to my phone in seconds.
I reached back out in mid-April when I had finished the havoc of finals week at Michigan. I knew I didn’t want to get stuck working at other potential internships that didn’t align with my interests and passion for social impact and more specifically, education. I didn’t know exactly how I was going to serve this company, but I knew that I’d become involved with Innovare and the work they do. Fortunately, I was offered a position as a junior strategist.
I’ve had experience working in education and teaching children, but I hadn’t gained much exposure to technology or product development. The first week of the job I was introduced to a whirlwind of the startup world; the good kind though. The type of good that makes you go home and stay up late researching each term or topic you overhear your boss dropping on his conference calls. As my internship progressed, I was continually reminded that this opportunity is a learning process: learning how to grow as an individual and as a professional, especially as a woman in the workplace. AJ, Nick and Fer always nudged me to speak loudly and to be unapologetic when I have something to say because my input and feedback matters too. The co-founders made sure we get the most out of each task or event we attended. Even in small moments, such as after a pitch, AJ will turn and ask: “So what did I do differently just now that I haven’t done in other sales?” Other tasks involved serious critical thinking. Specifically, we worked with a lot of data, charts and graphs. My background is in the humanities, so this was a completely new realm for me. The numbers seemed daunting – to say the least – and I didn’t understand the correlation between the data and the solutions. However, AJ, Nick and Fer helped me distinguish the meaning behind the numbers and the implications it has to the students, teachers and schools. Such as: “Where should a principal or school be centralizing their efforts? Should they be focused on refining their instructional leadership teams or should they hone in on inventive ways to teach math?” The responsibility is on us to untangle the seemingly complicated web of school data and make leading schools easier for our partners.
Sometimes, I still think about the work we did, and it feels surreal to know that I have the opportunity to serve the mission and goal of empowering school leaders and their students. Looking back on my internship experience, I’m reminded to give the most in your role, especially at a company like Innovare, so the students of today can have their own internship stories to tell in the future.