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 Nickelle Presley, the Director of Product Management. In this position, Nickelle is able to combine her professional skills and degree in Psychology from UCLA with her passion: helping our students thrive. She has a track record for creating products that help students reach an optimal cognitive learning state, so they can fully immerse themselves in the social and educational opportunities school offers.
What was your favorite subject in school (K-12)?
Math and Science (please don’t make me choose! But if I had to, Math).
Who is a teacher from your student days that made an impact on you, and why?
Mr. Hansen, my high school math teacher. I had him for several advanced math courses, and he had such an amazing knack for making the theoretical tangible. He had lived several lives before becoming a math teacher and had the ability to tie whatever we were learning to some kind of real-world application he could speak to firsthand. He was a very interesting man with a lot of wisdom to share.
He also wasn’t afraid to push you, yet was kind and patient. He never had favorites, never took himself too seriously, and genuinely enjoyed his job. He had fun, and seeing him have fun with it was contagious. It also helped that he was incredibly witty with a very dry sense of humor (any time there were district representatives coming around to shadow for the day, he would completely rearrange his classroom and decor to make them think they were in a bio class or something unrelated to what he was teaching, and he had us, his students, as part of it).
What drew you to become an expert in Product?
I wish I could identify this as a single thing, but my journey to Product was much more convoluted. I think at its core, I’ve always been attracted to roles that were related to data and analytics and gave me the ability to actually apply the results of my analyses to drive a more optimal outcome. There’s nothing more frustrating than being able to “see” something, yet not be able to influence change as a result of it. Additionally, I genuinely love helping people, and have very strong empathy/compassion for those around me. When I was first exposed to Product, a light bulb went off. It was a culmination of all the things that challenged and motivated me.
What message do you have for young women who may be thinking about a career in EdTech?
DO IT! I’ve been exposed to many different tech industries, and Education Tech is such a fulfilling field to choose. The folks involved in education have a palpable passion for their students and genuinely want to make an impact on our young society. It’s still an underserved field that is so important, as it has a direct impact and influence on the future members of our society. There are so many opportunities to partner with people in education, and they welcome you with open arms. I am honored to come into work each day and work and learn alongside these brilliant, driven folks at GoGuardian, our industry partners, and those in the school communities themselves.
I proudly self identify as a nerd, and I know how much school influenced my path. I am so grateful for the education I’ve received and continue to receive. Being in EdTech is my way of paying it forward, so I can work to continue to optimize the experience for my fellow, future nerds.
What’s the best way for young women to seek out mentors in science and technology?
Don’t be shy. Speak up and reach out! Find people that are in fields related to what you’re interested in and connect with them. There are many different ways to do that now. Most people in science and technology are very passionate and genuinely interested in what they do. Connect on LinkedIn, see if there are any talks or conferences coming up, review the upcoming events or projects at your local universities and meet people. Any excuse to talk about their projects is a blessing! It’s also fun to help people find what makes them light up inside. So reach out, let them know your interests, and start a conversation!
How do we foster the development of the next generation of women in science, engineering, and product?
Start young and expose often! Show women what is possible and what it means to have a career in science, engineering, and product. And show the diversity! There are many different permutations and applications of these fields. We need to not think of these fields in the textbook way we may have before (although, there’s nothing wrong with that if that is what suits their fancy). I think there are some preconceived notions of what it means to be in science, engineering, and product, and it’s important to give a real-world, diverse sample set for them to start to identify and understand what that could mean for them.
I also think we need to highlight the paths of those who followed these fields. This way, even if someone doesn’t have a direct connection in their life, they can see: 1. What’s possible, and 2. What it takes to get there. We need to show that it’s attainable no matter who you are and where you are.
What does personalized education mean to you?
To me, personalized education means we meet the student where they are. We (educators), in partnership with the student, help them understand and ultimately define what success in education looks like for them. Personalized education is a method in which we can still teach students what they need to know in order to progress in education and make an impact in society, but doing so in a way that helps them thrive. The emphasis is less about taking the path most traveled to the goal most strive for, and more about listening to what that student wants and needs. It’s a matter of uncovering how we help that particular student understand, learn, apply, and expand upon the knowledge they’re given so they can make significant progress toward their goals.
To you, what’s the difference between learning and education?
Education is a framework. It’s a lesson plan. It’s material and content. Learning is connecting the dots, having your “a-ha” moments and the actual application of the knowledge you were exposed to. When you’re learning, it’s not just the ingestion and regurgitation of content, it’s mastery of that knowledge. So much so that you can directly and indirectly apply what you’ve learned at a later time.
What impact has your role had on the success of GoGuardian?
In Product Management, we breathe life into a company’s vision. At GoGuardian, we’re building the ultimate learning platform for unleashing curiosity among students. Product Management takes this vision and defines the platform you can see, feel, interact with, that ultimately serves the school community’s needs, puts our students at the center, and catapults us forward. And we’re so fortunate to do that in partnership with our fellow departments at GoGuardian. Product Management may be responsible for defining what the “Ultimate Learning Platform” is, but we do so in direct partnership with everyone else at GoGuardian, as well as the many members of the school community we serve (including students). It’s a role that forces you to be fully immersed in the problem space you’re focused on so you can anticipate short- and long-term needs to simultaneously solve for both.
As the Director of Product Management, it is my responsibility to build and maintain a team of ambitious, intelligent, driven, passionate, and thoughtful product managers so they can architect a path toward our platform. It’s my job to surround them with the tools and information they need to succeed, and then get out of their way so they can make magic happen.
Is there a particular individual in history who has inspired you? If so, why?
Nope. Sadly, not somebody I am consciously aware of.
Be sure to check back this week and next for the conclusion of our Women in STEM series!