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Giving Back Through STEM

One Trulian shares his experience as a guest speaker for the 49ers STEM Leadership Institute

At Trulia, we believe in giving back to our community. Whether we’re volunteering at local shelters or teaching kids how to code, we’re always looking for ways to help. Which, is why I’m excited to share about another program one of our Trulian’s has recently been involved with: the 49ers STEM Leadership Institute.

Trulia’s Director of Consumer Analytics, Oleg Salnik, was a recent guest speaker for the program, where he also hosted a workshop. Read on to learn more about the program and his experience.

What is this STEM program you participated in and how did you get involved?
The 49ers STEM Leadership Institute is a program that helps students with high academic potential and inspires them to pursue STEM majors in college. A friend of mine, Kait Shorrock, currently manages the program for students at Santa Clara High School. She was telling me about it and since I have always been interested in mentorship opportunities, and given the alignment with my personal career path through STEM and my lifelong obsession with building and hacking things together, I wanted to get involved.

How is the program structured? How many students are involved?
Each year, middle-school students go through a competitive application process to partake in this free, six-year program, which takes them from seventh grade through their senior year of high school. A cohort of 60 kids are selected to join, subjecting themselves to 300+ additional hours of learning each year (including Saturday school!). Students are enrolled in enhanced math and science courses, receive hands-on training in a dedicated modern fabrication lab, and are frequently exposed to speakers, workshops and various competitions that emphasize problem solving and rapid prototyping. I was lucky to present to the first-ever cohort in this program, which started in 2014 and have recently began their freshmen year at Santa Clara High.

What was your role as a volunteer?
I was a guest speaker, and the day consisted of two parts. The first part was me sharing my personal career path in analytics. We discussed the importance of a diverse curriculum, specific math and science courses that are utilized daily in the tech world, and the increasing role of programming to tackle big, real-world problems through data. During the second part, I wanted to demonstrate the flexibility and focus that a STEM path provides and concentrate on my personal hobbies, one of which is iteratively prototyping/designing/3D printing items. Given the students already had some exposure to the basic concepts of 3D printing, we spent the next hour working in small groups to create CAD designs for small succulent plant pots, which they would later print and use. It was amazing to see ninth-graders whipping up fairly complicated models in little time, while taking in all of the tips and instructions I provided. In the end, I wanted the students to remember one thing: every failure is a learning opportunity, and iteration is the key to success – something every fabricator holds at heart.

Why is this STEM education important to you?
The biggest breakthroughs in my academic and career growth have come from seeing applicability in what I’m learning – and I’ve always felt that traditional education lacks answering the “why?” questions. This program is an opportunity to help kids connect the advanced topics they’re learning in school to real life, and to future career opportunities. It also demonstrates the wide applicability of STEM education in their future, as well as the challenges and failures that come with it.

How can someone else get involved?
The 49ers STEM Leadership Institute is always looking for volunteers and speakers. If anyone is interested in participating, you can check out all volunteer opportunities here: