VFI Member Laurie Carey Connects the Dots to Transform Education

Over a 35-plus-year career in the technology sector, Voices for Innovation member Laurie Carey has seen a lot of change in the industry and been through many career transitions. Her career journey has taken her from an electronics assembly technician at Fairchild Test Systems, to an account manager at Novell, to Founder and Executive Director of We Connect The Dots, Inc., and many more technology businesses in between, including 10 years at Microsoft.

Laurie Carey (center) with WCTD volunteers and student participants at CreatingSTEAM conference outside Microsoft Times Square office.
Laurie Carey (center) with WCTD volunteers and student participants at CreatingSTEAM conference outside Microsoft Times Square office.

While at Microsoft, Laurie frequently heard from partners about the lack of resources with the right tech skills in the workforce. So, while still at Microsoft, she launched a tech skills and career educational program for teens and young adults. Today, that seed has grown into We Connect The Dots (WCTD). Laurie left Microsoft about two years ago to dedicate herself full-time to WCTD and her consulting business. We talked with Laurie about WCTD and how partners can get involved with advancing tech education in their communities.

Voices for Innovation

What is We Connect The Dots? How does it work?

Laurie Carey

We are a volunteer-based, student-run organization that helps young people understand their career options and builds their awareness of 21st-century workforce skills needed to succeed in STEAM [science, technology, engineering, arts, and math] careers. We run immersive programs where kids develop technical and jobs skills, and take on responsibility and leadership. Our programs let students discover their own path, whether they lean toward vocational training, certification, community college, or a four-year college. These aren’t mutually exclusive. A student may pursue a vocational path and then find that he or she wants to go further and looks at college programs.

Voices for Innovation

How does it work? What are your programs?

Laurie Carey

We offer several programs geared toward students ages 13-25. We have one-day, five-day, and ten-day immersive programs, as well as programs integrated into the school year. In addition, our ambassador program enables participants to develop a range of skills and lead programs over several years. In our signature ten-day program, designed to spark an interest and create awareness, kids work in teams of eight, and they develop a conceptual business to solve a global problem. They create a website, mobile app, branding book, marketing video, and on the final day present to their peers. The program includes guest speakers every day. Kids learn what it feels like to work in a STEAM industry, including what are the different positions and career paths. Our five-day programs have the same learning model, but focus on topics in more depth, topics such as robotics, gaming, and animation. We also run an annual international code-a-thon.

Voices for Innovation

Can your program be replicated? Are you reaching beyond your community?

Laurie Carey

We build playbooks for our programs, so they can be replicated in other areas. Our model creates organic growth and scale, that is how you bring about real disruptive change. We’ve now run programs in Pennsylvania and western Australia, in addition to the New York metropolitan area.

Voices for Innovation

Tell us about some of your outstanding participants.

Laurie Carey

We had a participant, a high school student in New Jersey, who built a cybersecurity program based off of her interest to learn more about careers in cybersecurity. This collaborative effort included students, an industry expert, and teachers from around the world. Not long ago, I met a high school student who didn’t have a clear plan for career or college. She liked art, but no one had connected the dots for her between this interest and a career path. I invited her to join our ambassador program, and she began to learn Adobe CS. Now she’s pursuing training in graphic arts at a local college, as well as developing a brochure for our Community Ambassador Program (CAP).

Voices for Innovation

What’s the greatest challenge to the program?

Laurie Carey

Funding and sustainability. I’ve self-funded the program, and I started my own consulting business to support We Connect The Dots. We’ve also won grants and students raise funds as part of their participation in the program. We’re seeking seed funding from government and industry to expand our CAP program, which provides the greatest opportunity for organic growth. Our success creates the pipeline for future innovation.

Voices for Innovation

As part of your business and We Connect The Dots, you emphasize “brain-based” learning. Tell us about this.

Laurie Carey

In We Connect The Dots programs, we teach kids how the brain works. We all have the capacity to expand our ability to learn and solve problems. This is neuroplasticity. When kids hear this, a light bulb goes off, and their attitudes change. Too often, we make kids think they can’t learn, and this has to change. Through my consulting business, I also educate adults about this growth mindset and putting it to work.

Voices for Innovation

How can government action improve career and tech education?

Laurie Carey

In addition to providing increased educational funding, government needs to support change in schools. Middle school and high school teachers need to learn to be coaches and facilitators. We’re in period of disruption, and learning must evolve. We have to stop lecturing kids. We need to support blended environments of online and offline learning. In addition, social is critical. We have to make sure students are engaged with each other, working collaboratively and with open minds. And we need to connect the dots between learning and the larger world. Businesses will not have adequate workforce resources if government doesn’t support educational change.

Voices for Innovation

How can VFI members get involved?

Laurie Carey

We are always looking for volunteers and donors. You can learn more and reach out to us through our website. If you contract with my consulting business, you’ll also be supporting We Connect The Dots. Voices for Innovation members can also help in a broader sense by being advocates for change. I encourage VFI members to bring their views about the need for skills development, computer science and STEAM education to their school boards. We also need more technology professionals to run for school board.

Voices for Innovation

What’s next for We Connect The Dots?

Laurie Carey

We’re very excited that our organization will be moving into space at LaunchPad Long Island in Westbury (NY), a coworking facility that provides a home for startups, early-stage companies, and now We Connect The Dots. This new home will provide space for our Community Ambassador Program and future programs, including an additional site for our upcoming code-a-thon. We couldn’t have asked for a more ideal home. It will be an immersive, innovative learning environment where students can engage with the tech industry and teachers can participate in professional development programs. This will be a model for our future locations.

Voices for Innovation

Thank you for talking with us.

Students at CreatingSTEAM conference point to their response to an online scavenger hunt in Yammer.
Students at CreatingSTEAM conference point to their response to an online scavenger hunt in Yammer.

Learn More

We Connect The Dots

Laurie Carey Consulting

CreatingSTEAM Code-A-Thon

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