Friday, June 08, 2012

Clinton Global Initiative America: I'm back on the A-List

Last week's blogger outreach mishap was resolved in the best possible way, meaning it led to a productive dialogue with a high-level representative from the brand and a pledge to do better. This week I was back on the A-List with a media pass to Clinton Global Initiative America.

Founded by President Bill Clinton in 2005, CGI aims to inspire, connect, and empower a community of global leaders to forge solutions to the world's most pressing challenges. CGI America is focused on economic recovery and job creation in the United States.

Sitting100 or so yards from President Clinton as he took his spot at the podium was pretty cool (but not quite as cool as this). Hearing Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers, make nice with each other was interesting, and learning about J.B. Pritzker's new early childhood education project funded by his family foundation was inspiring (and reminded me of a long-forgotten personal goal to start a family foundation--albeit more modest than his), but I couldn't quite grasp why I was invited to apply for a press pass to the event.

Time for a new camera?

It became clear as the day went on. You see, the heart of CGI America is not the plenary sessions, but the working groups. There are several categories of groups, all of which tackle a piece of the bigger puzzle of economic recovery and job growth.

These groups include Early Childhood Education, Clean Electricity and Efficiency, Entrepreneurship,and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) Education. As a Science Olympiad* coach, I recently started a STEM focused blog (it's not ready for the big reveal just yet) and I am slated to be the STEM Mom on the soon-to-launch parent blog at KidzVuz, so I was pleased to be able to be a fly on the wall at the STEM working group.

Identity Crisis

In my mind there's a continuum from blogger to citizen journalist to traditional journalist and I sensed I was to act as though I was on the more traditional end of the spectrum, so I tried very hard to keep my mouth shut during the discussions. At times I was literally biting my tongue to keep from bringing some of the high level discussions down to Earth by sharing my perspective** as a parent. Given that parents are key stakeholders in anything relating to children, I do think it would be interesting t bring more of them into the fold at an event like this.

But I digress. The STEM working group broke up into subgroups for the meatier discussions, brainstorming and goal setting. I wanted to sit in on the Maker discussion, but there was literally not a seat at the table for me, so I settled into a smaller subgroup.

I was encouraged to hear the discussion start off with concerns about STEM accessibility- girls, parents, students of all social economic backgrounds and abilities. The details on the conversation are off the record, but the small group I observed came up with an exciting, unique and do-able goal.

The working groups will meet two more times over the course of the summit to refine their goals and, fitting with the expectations of CGI, commit to bring their ideas into action.

I'm just a mom with a blog

It was quite a group. I went in thinking, rather timidly, "I'm just an over-educated underachieving momblogger." I mean, there was a seriously impressive roster of folks in the room including one of the founders of Illinois Math and Science Academy (a woman, BTW), former director of DARPA (also a woman!), the CEO of the Project Lead the Way, and other national STEM evangelists.

But when one woman expressed her frustration over trying get media placement for STEM stories, it clicked. I know women who do or would write about STEM, especially STEM for girls.

And when I met a an inventor who's electronic gizmo I'd recently purchased and my son built last week, I morphed a teenage fan girl, "OMG! You're the guy who...!" (More about that when the STEM blog officially launches.)

Okay, so maybe my professionalism faultered and I might have told him I would not let him out of my sight until I had the chance to interview him, but there's something to be said for the blogger end of the reportage continuum. After all, I'd already been Facebooking and blogging and generally spreading the word about this guy's inventions. Mom Bloggers and social media moms share.

The people in the room can use the help of parent bloggers who share ideas, resources, and real-life solutions to real-world problems.

In fact, on two occasions when I saw #CGIAmerica about "STEM for girls," I pointed people toward this (okay, my new blog is not so secret, but will be better designed and hosted on a custom url in the coming months).

My thoughts about the role of bloggers at events like CGI America jelled after a chat with Jennifer James. She summarized it well, "Mom bloggers are on the front lines of being able to change public opinion. We have the power to influence, change minds, and in this case help the world along the way."

I'm eager to follow up and maybe even partner with several of the folks in that room.

And in the spirit of the event, I'm going to commit to turning a few ideas of my own into action.

1) Find out more about bringing Project Lead the Way to my son's jr. high school and talk to the superintendent or school board about it. Even in a best case scenario it won't be in place until after he's graduated, but still.

2) Turn my basement into a Maker Space.

3) Do an electronics project or workshop with the Girl Scouts or a group of local school children.

* FWIW, the overall team was in the top 10 in Illinois and my food science team placed in the top 15.

** From a systems point of view, profoundly gifted and academically talented youth are pretty much on their own. We're too focused on raising up the bottom and there seems to be little discussion on raising the ceiling. Honestly, I didn't hear any discussion about this population.

Edited to add: Read my friend Miss Lori's take on #CGIAmerica.