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Dr. Erika Tate - Bluknowledge CEO

Founder, Keynote & TEDx Speaker | Advances equity in schools and communities as a Bluknowledge researcher & evaluator, Loravore® professional learning facilitator, and Remix EQ Live host

Ruhi Ladwa #GirlPowerUnleashed in Conversation with Dr. Erika Tate

Ruhi Ladwa : Hi everyone, welcome to the Girl Power Unleashed podcast today. I am with a special guest, Miss Erika Tate. Hi, Erika. How are you?

Erika Tate : I'm good. How are you doing?

Ruhi Ladwa : I'm good. So, to start off, thanks for taking your time on the Girl Power Unleashed podcast. Tell us about yourself and your journey so far.

Erika Tate : All right. Well, my name is Erika Tate. I started my journey, as a young child. I was actually a military brat, which is like an affectionate name for those who grew up with a parent in the military. And I moved around a lot, which was like 9 different schools. And I lived in a lot of different communities, a lot of different places, both in the United States and overseas. And so, my parents were really foundational in helping me learn about community ,and learning to love community, and learning to appreciate being a part of that. That's something that I took with me throughout the rest of my life. So, after I graduated high school in Georgia, I went to Brown University in Providence, RI, which was a big change for me. But I still just really have this understanding of community and this desire for community. And so I majored in electrical engineering and computer engineering because I really like math and science and technology. It seemed to fit, and so I did that. But also, during my -we'd say like extracurricular time on campus, I would work with organizations such as the National Society of Black Engineers and the Dean's Office to help build community around women, students of color, who are trying to pursue majors and careers in science, technology, engineering and math. And so, this looked like meetings and having workshops with the career center and working with the Dean's office to think about ways for students and faculty to connect outside of, the lecture space. And so, I did that, graduated, moved to Silicon Valley, which is San Francisco Bay Area, Northern California- and went to work for a couple of tech companies out there. But I didn't find the same community in doing this work and so I pivoted and moved into education. And using all those skills that I learned in college during my extracurricular time, I got a job supporting college students who are majoring in engineering and in computer science and helping them think about not just their classes, but how could they receive mentorship from faculty?

How could they get ready to go to grad school? How could they learn about the content that they are taking in their classes and apply it in an internship? Or some other type of space. And so, I did that, and I ended up taking this course called Women in Science with who became my advisor, Doctor Marcia Linn. And so, I was able to go to graduate school in STEM Education, which seemed like a better place for me in the sense of that I really focused on building curriculum and supporting teachers to teach science as a social justice issue. And so, an example of that is I had students in high school learn about asthma. Not just as a condition that affects your breathing, but actually as a community or social justice issue. And they got to look at information and evidence from their community and think about trade-offs and make decisions that that work for them. And along the way I got to work with many community coalitions to help advocate for better breathing spaces and communities that were at risk because they were factories and railroads and all those things that polluted the air. And so that just really, I don't know, it did it for me. I ended up not going into academia to be a professor and ended up founding my own business, Bluknowledge which works to advance equity in schools and communities and lets me work on projects and education, public health, food justice, workforce development. And that is how I'm here. So, I built a business around doing the things that I love, which is helping the community and advocating for them in ways that benefit them.

Ruhi Ladwa: That's great! What are the most interesting things you are working on and how will that impact women?

Erika Tate: Well one of the most interesting things that I'm working on, which started last year, is that I started a live broadcast or livestream show called Remix EQ Live. And it's a show where, like you, I interview professionals who are centering equity in their work. That means that they are working toward some type of equitable outcome in the field of education or in health or other spaces. And so, I invite them to my show. It’s live. We get to have a conversation like we're having now. And people can chat and ask questions and join in. And I've been doing it for almost a year and a half. This is season three. And how it started is one day I woke up and I was like I should do a show. That would be really fun. It has really become my most favorite thing to do. And on the show, most of our guests are women and women of color who are working in this area because we talk a little bit about how our identities-like how my identity as a Black woman might shape what I choose to work in and who I choose to help and how I do it. I have a representation of Black women. I really love that because they're able to come on and use their voice and talk about their life and their experiences, both the ups and downs. But also their work and their approaches. And I think that's really empowering, both for them and me because I get to listen, and others who are tuning in. Because we really do get to listen and learn from a group of people who have been very marginalized in our society and talk about how they still have the strength and passion to change their world. And then also how they do it so we can learn from them. And I think anytime you can position yourself as someone who is making a change in this world but also helping others to do that. That is empowering. And really, I think it is exciting for our world so that we can be inspired to do those things.

Ruhi Ladwa : What were the obstacles you had to overcome? Any learnings from them.

Erika Tate : Yes, so many, but I think about it. Two obstacles that float to the top are one being underestimated and then also financial situations. So, I think one issue would be being underestimated. I do think that throughout my life, I've been underestimated and the things that I could do. As a student, do we think that you would be a smart student who would benefit from these opportunities? And most of the time, it was, no. I always had to prove myself. Or it was never the benefit of the doubt right? There was always this level of proof that had to happen and that continued throughout. I remember going to college and one of my professors saying, the only reason you're here is because you were smarter than all the other people in your class. But that doesn't mean you're as smart as the people who are here. I was like one, that's really rude. And two, why are you assuming I'm not as smart as everyone here? I just got here, right? I haven't had a chance to even engage in this space as a learner in this environment. And so, I think that the things that I've learned from being underestimated and pushing past that, is one, that you know you can overcome other people's beliefs about you.

You don't have to take those in, and you don't have to make them define you. But the other thing I think that's come later in my life, as I got older, is that I don't think what else do I need to do to show them that I can do this. I say, what is the bias that you hold that makes you think I'm not good enough or that I cannot do this? Or what is it about your worldview that positions me as something other than excelling in this space, or at this task? I push back on that a little bit because I have done a lot of things in my life. I have learned a lot. I've accomplished a lot. And of course, I want to continue learning. And of course, I want to continue accomplishing. But I have done a lot of things that have proven that I can do this particular thing right now. So let us discuss what you might need to change about how you view the world so that we can go forward. And I mean that was not something I did when I was younger. It looked a little bit different. But now you know I am older, so I feel I got a little more fire, and I put it back on the person. Because I think underestimating people is a loss to our world because we know that people can do amazing things. And if we don't give them the chance, and if we don't assume that they can, we'll never find out.

Ruhi Ladwa : What are your secrets to success? Are there a few key qualities that helped you attain success?

Erika Tate : My secret to success is that I am a learner and I positioned myself as a learner. I love my degree. Part of my degree in research is that I’m a learning scientist, so I study how people learn and what are the conditions and the circumstances, tools, and information that they need to learn. And I really love learning. I just see the world as opportunities to learn and I do that throughout the work that I do. And I did that like when I was in high school. I didn't know much about the college application process or financial aid. I just didn't know that yet, right? But I had colleagues, we did not call them colleagues in high school, but peers. And so, when they were talking to me, if they were, or if I was eavesdropping on conversations that they were having, I learned more about that process and how to apply to school, how to help my parents so I could have financial aid to attend school. And I did that same thing when I changed jobs to work at University of California, Berkeley, which is where I went to school. I was part of a program that helped students who came from other universities during the summer to research with faculty so that they could prepare for Graduate School.

Ruhi Ladwa : I was thinking of applying to one of their summer programs.

Erika Tate : Yes, they do. You should definitely do that. It's really great because you get to be on campus. You get to experience things in a way that you can't through pamphlets or like the visits. Right. And so, I think it's really good if you do it in high school where you get really good practice with interacting with professors. Because if you meet them for the first time, like in a big lecture room, it's like oh, this is a professor. And unless you're the person who's really good at that stuff, right, you’re like just going to ask your questions. But for a lot of people, right, it's gonna be a little bit intimidating. But I think when you do programs like this where you get to work along faculty daily, or you know, have some type of like social interaction with them, it really helps you think about them as people because that's who they are, who are there to help you. But yes, I would say yeah, those programs help because you know, I learned. I was the staff member, right? I wasn't the student. But then I had to sit in it on all the workshops. Right. And like, you know, talk to them about it.

So I learned, and so on my commute to work, I was studying for my GRE, which is an exam you take to get in graduate school. And I like the people that they talked to, I would go talk to them after work before I went home so I could learn how to get into graduate school. And I did. And it's perfect. So, I just think that anytime you can learn, it allows for you to see things that you don't know. Because I didn't know that. Like my parents, didn't do that, so I didn't know. And so that was a way that I could do that. I still do the same thing. I mean now, I collaborate a lot because I really love working with people. It brings me lots of joy. And so, when we're collaborating, we don't have the same expertise and the same experiences. That's why we're together, right, to merge this so we can make something that's even better for people. And so, I think that I've always just learned from them. Like I think of collaboration as an opportunity to learn new skills because, I'm not a school, right? So I'm not going to, well, I don't usually go back to courses. I usually learn through the experience in the process. And take good notes and ask questions of the people that I'm working with so that I can bring that into other work that I do. And I think the final thing too on this is that it's like learning from yourself. And so, I feel like I have a strong practice of reflection and I really try to think about anytime that I have a success and anytime that I have a failure, which happens a lot, right. What is it that led to that? Sometimes there are things that I could have done better. Sometimes there are things that were out of my control. But if I don't pause and reflect on that, I can't figure that out. And then I can kind of plan my next step, which is to, you know, overcome that failure or, you know, do something different or do something the same because, hey, that really worked out. Let's repeat. So, I think those are the learnings that I take from that. and I think what is really helpful for others is to be a learner and be reflective about your process. Because that's really going to take you far.

Ruhi Ladwa : What would you tell the girls who want to be the next generation of leaders?

Erika Tate : Do it. Please, we need you. I would say use your voice, right? I think that it seems like something we say a lot, but it really is hard to do, right? It takes a lot of bravery and courage to say something, especially when you know that it might not be well received, or it could shake up what is the status quo or what is like the norm. And I think that, I want people to use their voice, and I want them to use their voice to talk about what matters to them, right, because we all have different things that are important to us. We all have different things that kind of rise to the top because of how we've lived and how we want to live. And I think that the more people who talk about the things that matter the most to them, the more that we feel inspired and encouraged to do that. And then we have more voices and more perspectives and more ideas coming into our world. I think young girls. I mean your ideas matter, because history has taught us that our voices have not always been allowed. And then when they were, they have been minimized. And that means that this world has not been shaped for us to thrive, and so the more that we can bring our voice and create space for others to bring their voice into these conversations, we're going to change this world. So that is better for those like for me. I have a daughter and a son, so it's better for both of them. They're three and five. For you, Ruhi. You know you're 15. I mean you're doing it!

Ruhi Ladwa : I am trying!

Erika Tate: You are doing it, using your voice, using your space to give other people voice. I mean, it's amazing. I'm so excited, I was telling my daughter, it is wonderful. And it can be in a podcast, but it can also just be at your dinner table. It could be in your school. It could be with another friend, right? But just making sure that as young girls, we don't feel that we have to be quiet, right? Yes, I have something to say, say it.

Ruhi Ladwa: Well, thank you so much for taking the time to be on the podcast. I'm sure listeners loved listening to you and thank you.

Erika Tate: Thank you. I appreciate it so much and I enjoyed meeting you.

Ruhi Ladwa: Yeah! Me too!!

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