STEM & The Tech Challenge

For me, living in Silicon Valley and working for Dell EMC has opened my eyes to the importance of a STEM education: Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. For a long time I have been impressed with the intelligence of my peers, especially because I am in the minority with a “Bachelor of Arts” degree. What’s impressive about the valley is the vast amount of technology companies in a matter of miles. I was curious, so I looked up how many tech companies are in the town in which I work, and the answer is 1,104. In this area, a STEM education is crucial.

Growing up, I personally did not excel in STEM – my academic strengths were always History and English, never Physics and Math. That’s why, when I had the opportunity to volunteer at the Silicon Valley Tech Museum‘s annual event “The Tech Challenge,” I was very impressed with the students and their strengths in this area. You may be asking, what is the Tech Challenge?

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This signature program of The Tech invites teams of students in Grades 4-12 to use the engineering design process to solve a real-world problem. Participants spend months collaborating and becoming deeply engaged in the challenge while documenting their progress and designs. The program culminates in a thrilling two-day showcase in April when teams put their solutions to the test in front of judges.

Although I was only a volunteer, I was able to see hundreds of children using their STEM education in an amazing aways. What’s even more exciting is that so many of these students were girls! The challenge this year was “Rock the Ravine” – design and build a device to help explorers cross an ice field with multiple ravines. It was a competition like I’ve never seen before with 2,500 students, 55 program sponsors from the valley, and hundreds of corporate volunteers. My company, Dell, is the presenting sponsor for the Tech Challenge and I’ve been lucky enough to be involved this year as the Dell company ambassador. This involved sitting in on a few board fundraising meetings, communicating about the challenge within Dell, asking for volunteers, and working with our VIP executive judges.

I’ve really enjoyed working in the technology industry because, although my course of study did not take me through Engineering training, I’ve been able to become a part of the tech community and encourage the next generation to pursue a STEM education.

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My husband and I volunteering at the Tech Challenge – two rivaling tech companies coming together to support STEM education for students!

Travel: Central & South Florida

When we decided to fly out to North Carolina in February I insisted that we end our trip laying on the beach in Miami. I knew that the sunshine would outweigh any unfortunate weather we would encounter the days before. Luckily for us, the weather was (almost) perfect on our trip! Because we spent some extra time in Charleston, SC, we ended up sacrificing most of our time in Savannah, GA and it became a brief stop for lunch. We dined at Soho South Cafe and ate some delicious peach cobbler! You must eat something with peaches when you drive through Georgia. The Savannah History Museum was the only sight we were able to visit before we were on the road again.

Time Spent: 4 days

The Adventure: 

Ocala was our first stop in Florida, where we spent the night with a friend and woke up early in the morning to swim with MANATEES! It was an incredible experience, and I’m so sad there are no photos or videos to prove it! Everything was extremely wet on our tour at Crystal River, but we had a blast swimming down river canals with these enormous creatures! I mean, how often can someone say they swam with manatees? Very cool. Other stops on our trip through Central Florida included Universal Studios, dinner at Tanners to try some fried gator, and  a stop at the local micro brewery in Winter Haven. We were so lucky to visit with some of our best friends on this trip to Florida, too!

One of our mornings called for some fresh squeezed Florida orange juice before the long drive to Miami, the last leg of our journey, and it was the perfect way to end our central Florida experience.

In Miami we stayed at an Air BnB in North Beach which was embedded into a neighborhood with plenty of local cuisine. And I’m talking about Cuban, Argentine, Peruvian, and Columbian. Our favorite food experience in Miami was breakfast at Sazon’s Cuban Cuisine, which was a quick 3 blocks away from where we were staying. We actually ate breakfast there twice because of their DELICIOUS Cafe con Leche. I also really enjoyed their breakfast and how they were right next to the beach – the perfect ingredients for a lovely beach day.

Another highlight for us was doing Jet Boat Miami, a not-your-average boat tour of Miami including high speeds, twists, turns, and loud music. I loved how we were able to get a 360 view of Miami, and see where celebrities like Ricky Martin and Will Smith have vacation homes.

We were very sad to leave Miami, and our amazing 8 day road trip. There were so many amazing memories that were made on this trip, and although all good things must come to an end we look forward to the next adventure.

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PS – Have you seen the video of our trip yet? Click here.

Travel: Charleston, SC

Words cannot describe my love for Charleston, South Carolina. It was an unexpected love – I suppose I did not know much about this city going in to our time there. The gorgeous colors, the charming homes, the oceanside views, the cuisine – all perfection.

Time Spent: 1.5 days

The Adventure: We spent 3.5 hours driving to Charleston from Raleigh, and when we arrived downtown I couldn’t wait to jump out of the car and get walking. The downside to road trip life is that we were starving when we arrived, so we walked to a restaurant called Magnolia’s and ordered some of their most popular dishes – Shrimp & Grits and a Cuban sandwich. I never recall eating grits before, so this was a first for me, and WOW was it delicious paired with lobster butter sauce, shrimp, and scallops. To die for!

With full stomachs we proceeded to walk around the downtown area, pausing for lot’s of photos at Rainbow Row, the oceanside park, and the  little neighborhoods nearby. I think I must have walked at least 6 miles that day with wide eyes taking in all of my surroundings. I think the photos below can speak for themselves as to the magical place that is Charleston, SC. Did I mention the weather was absolutely gorgeous and warm that day?

We were lucky enough to stay with some family on John’s Island, SC – a quaint little island town with the perfect backdrop to raise a family. Our relatives took us for a night out on the town at High Cotton, and little historical late night tour of Charleston where we visited some famous streets and sights together (many of them believed to be haunted).

The next day we had a full agenda as we made the choice to stay in Charleston a few extra hours and sacrifice the time at our next stop. For those of you who know me well, you know I love myself a great cup of tea, so it will not come as a surprise when I tell you how we started our next morning – the Charleston Tea Plantation on Wadmalaw Island which is the only tea plantation located in the United States. We enjoyed a nice trolley tour during which we learned about the tea process, and don’t forget the endless tea samples! Of course, my husbands favorite was the sweet tea.

Next, we switched from tea to vodka. When I was researching what to do in the area prior to our trip, I stumbled across the Firefly Sweet Tea Vodka distillery, and was extremely curious. To get to Firefly you had to drive down gorgeous windy roads with trees unlike any variety we have in CA. Upon arrival we met with a barista, and sampled 6 of their different alcohols including Sweet Tea Vodka, White Lighting Moonshine (100 proof), and Lemonade Vodka.

Overall, Charleston was a huge blessing, and I can’t wait to go back and rent a house on the beach there some day!

PS – Last week I made a little video of our road trip that you can see on my Facebook here.

Travel: Raleigh, NC

It’s funny the way that life unfolds – the roads you travel, the decisions you make, the inspirations you have. For us, what was a fleeting thought that said “Hey, we should go see a UNC Chapel Hill Basketball game” turned into buying tickets, flying to North Carolina, and road tripping down the east coast for 8 days.

We began our South East Coast adventure in Raleigh, NC and stayed at a hotel local to Chapel Hill and Durham because we knew we had a lot to cover in a short amount of time!

Time Spent: 2 days

The Adventure:

Our red eye flight landed on a sunny and beautiful North Carolina morning, and all we had was our backpacks in hand – we did not want the burden of luggage weighing us down. After renting our road trip car, we drove downtown for a “Welcome to Raleigh” breakfast at a local spot – Morning Times. I remember ordering a hazelnut latte, a egg and cheese biscuit, and grabbing a window seat. Oh, and let’s not forget my impulsive lavender lemon cookie purchase so early in the morning – totally worth it.

After settling into our hotel that morning and taking a quick nap we were up and ready for our first official “southern” lunch with a friend I met at Dell EMC. Quick note – you’ll notice that a lot of our trip was centered around eating… lot’s of eating. She took us to Mama Dip’s in downtown Chapel Hill, and we weren’t disappointed! Luckily for us, we were able to walk off that fried chicken and explore UNC Chapel Hill’s gorgeous campus before the game that night.

Dressed in light blue, we joined 21,000 die hard UNC Chapel Hill fans at the Dean Smith Center for a game against Virginia. Mike and I can both attest to how amazing this experience this was – the energy, the school spirit, and the basketball talent was unreal. All of our inspiration for this trip came to life in this moment, and it was worth every penny!

Our second day was spent primarily in Durham, NC visiting some hot local eateries like Elmo’s Diner, Monut, and Cocoa Cinnamon. After hours of divulging, we explored Duke University & the gardens on campus. I’d been to this Harry Potter styled college before, and it was just as gorgeous as I had left it! We finished the night at Buku in downtown Raleigh, which is a tasty restaurant inspired by world street food – highly recommend! To end the night we asked our waiter for a great spot for drinks, and he pointed us to Foundation Cocktail Bar, which was once a speakeasy in the roaring 20s – how cool! The bartenders were experts in their craft, and we had a blast trying their drinks and asking them all sorts of questions.

We were certainly blessed on our visit in North Carolina by the gorgeous weather, amazing food, and the UNC basketball blowout. You’ll see us again, NC!

 

Travel: San Francisco

Love the place you live.

Last Summer we put pen to paper and wrote down all of the fun activities and towns to explore in the San Francisco Bay Area (check out our Our Bay Area Bucket List). Since we created this list, we have had a great time checking everything off! More recently I also decided to kick off 2017 with a “Food Bucket List” and slowly eat my way through the Bay Area thanks to the recommendations of my wonderful foodie friends.

Favorite Destinations

Point Reyes: Visiting Point Reyes was one of the first items that we checked off our bucket list as it came highly recommended by a friend. Before we drove along the coast, we drove to Point Reyes Station, explored the little downtown area, and visited Heidrun Meadery. Heidrun is the only place in the world that makes its mead via the champagne process. It was fascinating to take a tour of their small factory, and learn about how mead is made! Did you know that mead is a honey based beverage? Let’s just say I took a few bottles home with me.

Half Moon Bay: To our great surprise, our family and friends treated us to a night at the Ritz Carlton in HMB to celebrate our one-year anniversary. We spent the weekend riding horses on the beach, drinking chai, and walking along the gorgeous paths along the waterfront at the resort. We left our weekend with hearts (and bellies) full!

Favorite Food

Teahouse in San Francisco: I had the perfect opportunity to try out one of San Francisco’s many tea houses when one of my best friends from Boston came to visit. Amidst a long itinerary was a stop at the Samovar Tea Lounge in the SOMA district. What I loved about this tea lounge was the location and the menu. We sat on their rooftop deck surrounded by the downtown buildings with perfect weather as we sipped on our international tea pairing – we split the Chinese & Russian Pairing, and of course I had to try their Chai Tea. Since my first visit I’ve been back twice!

Russian River Brewing Company: Let me describe the perfect Sunday afternoon for you – taking a gorgeous road trip north of San Francisco, hiking around a lake, playing spikeball with friends, and sipping world class beer. I don’t know about you, but that sounds pretty ideal to me! And it was. We had Russian River on our bucket list because of one specific beer – Pliny the Elder. Another one of my favorite breweries I’d like to give a shout out to is the 21st Amendment Brewery in SF – visit if you are ever downtown!

We’ve just begun dining our way through our food bucket list, and I can’t wait to expand more on our favorites. To see a running list of where we’ve been so far, click here. 

Favorite Activities

Red Sox VS A’s Baseball Game: Although it is more likely that you would find us at AT&T Park, the home of the San Francisco Giants, we put the Oakland Coliseum on the bucket list this summer – check! Over the years, I’ve had the pleasure of visiting 14 different parks, and I was happy to see my home team, the Boston Red Sox, play as I visited my 15th.

Hiking Our Local Trails: One huge plus for us living in the Bay Area is that we are surrounded by mountains that fill our weekend plans with lot’s of hiking! Our favorite hikes to date have been Castle Rock, Fremont Older, Mt. Tam State Park, and Rancho San Antonio. 

Will your New Years Resolution be to Videoconference More?

Recently when I was doing my daily scroll through my Twitter feed, I came across an article titled “What I’ve Learned from 30 Days of Videoconferencing.” Immediately I clicked the link to read more because I am and will always be a fan of using videoconferencing in business to interact with your team internally. Tools such as Skype and FaceTime have also played an integral role in my life as my friends and family are scattered throughout the country.

A lot of times, especially at work, I am surprised at how little we utilize videoconferencing despite the tools we have at our fingertips. In agreement with the article that I read this week, I have found a few reasons why you should integrate videoconferencing into your routine at work.

  1. Building camaraderie. Getting to know each other is essential to team building, especially when all of the team members are not present in the same office as you. In my eyes, a good team has a strong bond, and how can you achieve that if you never see each other?
  2. Strengthening engagement. There are many times on calls where we can become distracted or disengaged with the discussion. With video conferencing, you feel like you are there in the room with your team as a vital and important part of the matter at hand.
  3. Nonverbal Communication. Who has ever experienced the long and awkward silence when asking a question over the phone? You can’t see me now, but I am virtually raising my hand! With video conferencing you are able to read the nonverbal signals that your teammates are giving you as you speak – nodding of heads, smiles, postures, and even eye contact. Trust me, it makes all the difference.
  4. Breaking global barriers. In a perfect world, each of us would be meeting with our teams face to face, but then we wouldn’t have the wonderful and diverse community that we do within our company. We need to have team members in every country to function successfully, and an easy way to break down the barrier of distance is to turn on your video camera and engage in your meetings face to face.

Now let me build the case for those who may still be skeptical. The two reasons that I find most teams and individuals do not use video regularly are because they forget that it is an option or they or someone on their team are not comfortable using video. My colleagues at work also reminded me of the occasional technical difficulty that it brings after I posted this blog internally to hear more thoughts on the subject.

I’ll tell you one thing – as someone who works at a small location with her team spanning different locations, it means the world to me when managers and colleagues hop on video chat to meet me face to face. When someone takes the time and effort to remember to use video chat, I do not forget it. Second, I have had the pleasure of being a part of a team over the past two years that is bi-coastal; one made up of a diverse group of individuals with different skill sets than my own, and one consisting of BOTH introverts and extroverts alike. I can speak for the team when I say this using video conferencing for every single one of our team meetings and manager 1x1s made a transformational difference in the way our team functioned.

If anything, I hope that this reflection has you (at least) consider integrating videoconferencing into your work and personal routines.

2016: The Year of Change

If I could write a story headline for 2016 I would choose: “2016 brings tumultuous change, opportunity”

If I could pick three phrases to describe 2016 I would choose: “Patience”+ “Confidence” + “Business as Usual” 

If I could write a blog post about my professional year in 2016 I would say:

2016 brought unexpected change with the announcement of my company’s acquisition. I laugh as I write this because one should ALWAYS expect change, especially during such a time as now when many companies are pairing up with their “dancing partners” to re-evaluate their businesses, partner together, and make waves within the industry. The days leading up to the early September merge were ones of anticipation, as we were told to continue business as usual, and practice patience with all of our might. When you know that major changes are coming, you want to do all that you can to prepare, but at a certain point you must take a deep breath and mentally prepare yourself knowing you are not the one responsible for making the change. 

Overall, my year was great. I continued working with a strong group of professionals as we polished our best practices, learned more about how to engage our community, and truly enjoyed each other’s company. 

Highlights for me at work this year included:

  • Running a diversity & inclusion campaign in early 2016 
  • Collaborating with the Social Media team as a live blogger on “Day 1” of Dell Technologies 
  • Tapping into my creative side as I learned to use Adobe Illustrator
  • Participating in the local Asian Circle Diwali festival and winning a prize for participating in their fashion show
  • Planning and executing a successful innovation event in December, bringing together 10 global locations and 700 participants
  • Transitioning into a new role with support from the people in my professional life who matter the most

During a year long acquisition you are tempted to give up, to be pessimistic, to speculate…but in the end I learned that your reaction to change is what will set you apart (and also keep you sane!)

4 months post-acquisition I am proud to say I was and am a part of the largest, most tumultuous merger in the history of the technology industry. Now that 2016 is behind me, I look to 2017 with confidence for whatever it may bring. Happy Holidays, friends!

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