March 31, 2020

Meet Rachel Ahrens, Research Associate

GoGuardian Team
Rachel Ahrens headshot

March is National Women’s Month, or Women’s History Month, in the United States. For the month of March, we spotlighted the incredible women of GoGuardian in our “Women in STEM” interview series. From engineers to product managers to researchers, these brilliant women have shared their journeys in education and science/technology, as well as advice to others who might follow a similar path.

Our final interview from this series is Rachel Ahrens, a research associate in our Research and Insights Team. Rachel is an Anteater through and through, having obtained her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from University of California, Irvine and currently a UCI Ph.D. candidate in Sociology with a focus on Education.

What was your favorite subject in school (K-12)?

Art! I loved having the freedom and space to create my own projects, as well as learn through tactile and visual mediums.

Who is a teacher from your student days that made an impact on you, and why?

My third grade teacher had a huge impact on me. She saw potential in me that I didn’t see and pushed me to do better when she knew I could do more. She really believed in me and pushed me to do things that I didn’t know I was capable of.

What drew you to become an expert in research?

I never explicitly knew I wanted to be in research. I followed my intuition, strengths, and passions and ended up here. I knew that I enjoyed asking questions, and I was always painfully curious. It also became apparent throughout schooling that I noticed patterns where others might not, fueling my strengths in statistics. From there, I jumped at every opportunity I could to learn from teachers and my peers, as well as working for graduate students as an undergraduate. I didn’t realize along the way that by following opportunities as I saw them—and creating opportunities for myself—I was slowly closing in on my passions and strengths to establish a career in research.

What message do you have for young women who may be thinking about a career in EdTech?

Don’t limit yourself by what you “should do.” I found my passion and career by focusing on the opposite: what I did not want to do. By keeping tabs on myself, my strengths and passions, areas for growth, and avenues I wasn’t interested in, I naturally found the path into my dream career in EdTech.

What’s the best way for young women to seek out mentors in science and technology?

You have something to learn from everyone, whether it is apparent from the outset or not. Ask questions about people’s pasts, present, and their future goals. From there you’ll cultivate relationships that will have an opportunity to become a mentor. People want to guide you and pass on what they have learned—you just have to be willing to reach out and ask. There’s nothing to lose.

How do we foster the development of the next generation of women in science, engineering, and product?

We need to allow for trial and error for women to learn from their mistakes, just as anyone else is allowed to. Just because you don’t find traction in the first things you try, that doesn’t mean that you can’t do it! Try other ways to learn, other ways to approach a topic, and allow yourself to fail without judgement. Every successful person has millions of failures behind them, so embrace the mistakes and learn from every single thing you do. You’ll make great strides in no time.

What does personalized education mean to you?

To me, personalized education means learning in a style that works best for me and through topics that interest me. Personally, I have to see and do something to learn it, rather than reading about it or only watching someone else. Additionally, when I learn in a context that I can relate to, it helps it stick. If I’m learning new statistical methods, it helps for me to think of my variables in terms of topics I know well or am very interested in!

To you, what’s the difference between learning and education?

Education is a more formalized system in which we learn topics deemed to be important in our society, whereas learning is the process in which we take in new information that we understand and can apply. They often overlap, and education best enriches a society when it is fueled by deep learning and understanding.

What impact has your role had on the success of GoGuardian?

GoGuardian is a space in which I can explore virtually any idea, and am encouraged to learn from my mistakes rather than being penalized for them. This has allowed me to conduct research in an honest manner, which is imperative for robust research. Because of this, I have been able to support multiple teams internally with statistics about student behavior within our products. I’ve been given the space to explore our data in ways that support marketing, product management, customer success manager, and much more. I am also contributing to GoGuardian’s understanding of the digital learning experience, driving toward our company’s longer term goals.

Is there a particular individual in history who has inspired you? If so, why?

In my undergraduate career, I studied the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., inspired me in many ways, including the impact he has made on our society in making strides toward equality and inclusivity. Beyond that, in learning about Dr. King’s history through reading newspaper articles about him from the 1950s-60s, I learned that he failed quite often. He made mistakes, and learned from each one. Not only did he keep pushing forward, but he also recognized that in order to accomplish great things, he must do things that were unconventional and uncomfortable in the moment.

That concludes our Women in STEM series for Women's History Month! We hope you enjoyed learning about the women of GoGuardian and feel inspired to share their stories with a young person in your life.