March is National Women’s Month, or Women’s History Month, in the United States. For the month of March, we are showcasing the incredible women of GoGuardian in our “Women in STEM” interview series. From engineers to product managers to researchers, these brilliant women share their journeys in education and science/technology, as well as advice to others who might follow a similar path.
Today’s interview is with Mariana Aguilar, manager of research for our Research and Insights Team. Mariana has a B.A. in Social Science with an emphasis in Psychology and an M.A. in Education with an emphasis in Digital Learning from Loyola Marymount University. Her first foray into education was teaching 3rd grade for Teach for America.
What was your favorite subject in school (K-12)?
English and History!
Who is a teacher from your student days that made an impact on you, and why?
All of them, but I think the two that stand out the most are Mrs. Curry and Ms. Dickey. Mrs. Curry, my 5th grade teacher, taught me how to write paragraphs in an organized manner; and when I think about what it means to communicate effectively, it really begins and ends with the ability to share your thought process in a logical order with someone else. Additionally, Mrs. Curry taught me about the power of imagery and "showing, not telling" your audience about what is happening. This ability to tell a story that evokes emotions through descriptive details rather than a chronological recount is essential to connecting with others. In addition to Mrs. Curry, I would be remiss not to mention Ms. Dickey. Ms. Dickey was my 10th grade and 12th grade English teacher, and she taught me about the importance of punctuation and how even the smallest detail, like the placement of a comma, can change the syntax and tone of a sentence. And like this interview shows, conveying emotion through written communication is essential to effectively sharing what you want to say.
What drew you to become an expert in education research?
My goal has always been to improve education so that all students can have learning experiences that enable them to reach their full potential. Along the way, I've explored various levers for change, from education policy to process optimization, but what I discovered along the way is that in order to transform education, understanding what really works in improving outcomes is the KEY—and the only way to know what works is to apply a scientific approach to evaluating the learning experience. So when I think about why I continue to hone my craft every day, it is because I believe that we have a responsibility to use research-based best practices in the design and development of learning solutions if we are to build a world in which all students thrive.
What message do you have for young women who may be thinking about a career in EdTech?
If you are passionate about changing the world, and you are methodical, creative, and curious, EdTech is an industry for you. It is a field that needs experts across many disciplines in order to solve complex issues. We need sociologists and psychologists, computer scientists and instructional designers; we need administrators and teachers, neuroscientists and learning scientists. If you care deeply about education and believe we can improve education through technology, there's a role for you to play in building this new reality.
What’s the best way for young women to seek out mentors in science and technology?
I believe achieving any dream begins with talking about your goals with your friends, family, and the people you meet. The more people know what you are passionate about and understand the skills and expertise you bring to the table, the more people can identify when there's an opportunity to connect you to someone in their network. The best kind of mentors emerge organically, and one of the best ways to find these mentors is in the relationships you already have.
How do we foster the development of the next generation of women in science, engineering, and product?
A couple of things are really important here. I think we need to highlight examples of women who are already doing great work in this space. It's important that the next generation of women see themselves reflected in the current tech leaders, because seeing someone like you can help you imagine what it would be like to be in that position. Additionally, I think we need to be very intentional about cultivating and celebrating the capabilities necessary for success in science, engineering, and product. This can look like after-school programs, internships, certifications, or awards for girls in STEM. Most importantly, I think we need to remember that change doesn't happen overnight; it takes a concerted effort by a lot of people to transform the status quo.
What does personalized education mean to you?
I love when people ask this. :) Personalized education means having a learning experience that is just right for that learner at that moment.
To you, what’s the difference between learning and education?
Another great question! To me, education is a civic institution with the responsibility of providing the public population with the skills, information, and experiences necessary to participate and contribute to society in a productive and prosocial manner. Learning is the process by which we as humans, formally or informally, acquire new information, develop new skills, or adopt new behaviors. Education is something we often think of as occurring largely in the first quarter of one's life, but learning—that's forever. If you are alive, you are learning—whether you want to be or not. When we are exposed to new stimuli, our brain processes the information and creates new neural pathways, so our brains are always changing in response to the stimulus in the environment. So, if you are a human, you are a learner. :)
What impact has your role had on the success of GoGuardian?
My role has enabled me to build a team of top-notch researchers deeply dedicated to improving education and transforming the digital learning experience. As we continue to grow as an organization, our Research team has contributed to GoGuardian's ability to better understand the students' digital learning experience and to infuse learnings into how we develop our products, so we can maximize the positive impact on student outcomes.
Is there a particular individual in history who has inspired you? If so, why?
It's hard for me to connect with individuals in history. I find their stories to be so glorified, and I find myself wanting to know them as a person with their own struggles and challenges like any other. In order to feel inspired by others, I need to see their humanness; the inspiration comes from seeing the triumph over adversity and the willingness to move beyond one's personal tribulations to create more goodness in the world. It's the small moments of putting aside one's challenges to help someone else with theirs, or having the courage to stand up for what's right even if it might cost you personally. So when I think of people that inspire me, I would actually say the people who inspire me most are the everyday heroes we see all around us because— change, it begins with all of us.
Keep checking back for more interviews in our Women in STEM series!