Foundation Staff

Paola Valdivia

One of the best things about working with students is getting to experience the “aha moments” they have when they discover something new.

There’s one that sticks out to me: when I worked at KIPP New Orleans Public Schools, I had students that were learning how to use code to make lights blink. It didn’t take long for a “light” to go off in their heads when they realized they were using the same technology that makes Christmas lights work. That moment, among so many others, brought out a genuine desire to create, innovate, and take their skills to the next level.

Experiences like this make it clear to me that the Black and Brown students at our schools do have the desire to go after STEM careers. But the reality is, young students of color aren’t often given the exposure they need to pursue these paths.

That reality doesn’t discourage me; it fuels me. It’s the reason why I’ve been in the education field for 12 years and the reason I joined the KIPP Foundation as Director of Science, Technology, and Engineering. In my position, I have the great privilege of developing and implementing programs like robotics or AP computer science in our schools. There’s no doubt in my mind that our students will take these opportunities, run with them, and create awe-inspiring work.

We have the power to disrupt the cycle of inequity that has boxed too many people of color out of STEM careers. When we think about science and technology challenges like the COVID-19 pandemic or the Flint water crisis, we must acknowledge these problems disproportionately affect communities of color. Because of that, our voices and expertise can and should be used to develop solutions. I truly believe if our students are given the right tools, one day they will be the ones leading the way in solving our world’s toughest challenges.

Among the many things I appreciate about KIPP, I love that this organization is not only a place for young people to grow into great leaders, but also a place where staff like me can live out our passion every day at work.

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