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M/WBE Spotlight: Q & A with WhyMaker Founder Liz Gallo

Updated: Apr 11

Liz Gallo. Courtesy of WhyMaker.

Karp Strategies had the privilege of sitting down with Liz Gallo, founder and CEO of WhyMaker, an MWBE-certified organization dedicated to supporting educators with professional development to connect their students with innovative, modern, and relevant education. She shared with us her teaching philosophy, WhyMaker’s approach to equipping teachers with relevant and transformative training and resources, and her vision for the future. Liz brings a decade of teaching experience that informs her team’s outreach and program development.

What inspired you to found WhyMaker?

I taught technology education for ten years. I started WhyMaker to help kids have better school days by training their educators on modern and innovative teaching strategies. I left the classroom and started doing professional development with teachers to help them understand how to teach in a creative, project-based way so that students are engaged in what they are learning, they are proud of what they’re doing, and they feel connected to their community. 

Why do you find cultivating a STEM-minded approach to education so important?

When you create something and you actually physically have it, or you can physically see it, that’s impactful. It’s important that the results of students’ work isn’t only a test grade that gets thrown away, and it’s key to know that there’s no one right answer for everything. I want students to have the opportunity to make things that they choose rather than feeling like there is one correct answer. Kids often get stuck in this world where they feel like there’s one right answer, and they only want to have one right answer, and that’s not how the real world is. Prepping kids for that reality is important to me. 

Can you walk me through the process of building and expanding WhyMaker?

Over the past six years, we’ve grown pretty expansively, and we are on track to train over 1 million educators by 2032. We are actively working to find educators to work with, and something that’s helped WhyMaker grow so much is our MWBE status. Once we got certified as a women-owned business in New York State, we were able to receive new grants and work as a subcontractor on other grants. That helped us expand our business and grow significantly. With these grants, we can expand our capacity to provide professional development for teachers, write lesson plans and activities for students, and facilitate community outreach with educators and students. 

How did you get involved in STEM education specifically?

In college, I found the math/science/technology education department, and I learned about design thinking as a way to teach students. As soon as I learned that and went through my first project, I had this “ah-ha” moment where I thought, “this is how we should be teaching all of our children,” with a problem-solving, critical thinking, and project management methodology where they’re coming up with creative solutions to real problems and they feel like they have an impact on the community. 

That’s how it all started, and then throughout my career, STEM has taken off as a way of teaching and a way of thinking about teaching, and it has become highlighted in our culture as well. It’s an honor to be able to work with students and teachers to provide them with that knowledge and foundation to head into the world of work that is STEM to solve some of our greatest challenges and to work on some of our biggest projects that we face as a world. 

How do you get connected with the schools and teachers you work with?

Everybody that works at WhyMaker was a teacher and worked in schools, so we understand what it’s like to be in a school and be a teacher. We make a serious effort to communicate with teachers in many different ways, reaching out to them and providing benefits to them because they deserve it. We give teachers stipends for attending our professional development. We give them resources to take back to their classrooms. We make sure that they have time to sit and think about the applications to their classroom. And most importantly, enjoy their learning experience with us. We have a really robust network of educators who follow us and stay connected with us, and engage with us on a regular basis. We love providing for them whatever we can. 

What does success look like for you and your company?

What we know is when we train one educator, we talk to an undefined amount of students. We’ve set the goal of training 1 million educators by 2032, knowing that will impact an infinite number of students. Success for us is getting good-quality, job-embedded, practical, professional learning activities and products to teachers—that is all that we want to do. What’s important about the work that we’re doing is we’re not doing just for select teachers. We’re doing it for every educator because every educator can enhance their teaching to provide students with really impactful experiences. 

How has the emergence of new technology like offshore wind and AI affected your programs?

We’re doing a lot of work now with AI, focusing on professional development around AI for teachers. We’re looking at how teachers can use AI to help with management aspects of their classroom, as well as how AI can help students with disabilities. We’re looking at how we can provide a universally designed education for all students using AI. We’ve also been doing professional development around what AI is and how it works. We want to make it less scary for teachers and show students how they can create things with AI. Our work will help students become aware of the need for diverse groups of people to enter careers that are available within the AI space. 

Regarding the clean energy space and offshore wind, it is huge along the eastern seaboard and it is a revolutionary industry that is going to evolve significantly. We’re going to have so many different people working in these careers, and we’re going to have so many people who are working in this space in atypical and less expected ways. There’s so many different careers that exist in this space, and people are going to need to be trained and skilled to work in that industry. As an MWBE, we are working on supporting companies to grow their workforce by talking to educators and sharing pathways to jobs and careers in this industry. 

Oftentimes, we talk to teachers about careers for their students because we want students to understand what their skills are and what they are passionate about. Maybe you’re really good at small machine maintenance, and you’re passionate about clean energy. We can put those two things together to find you a career in this space and get you some exciting and rewarding options. 

Amidst all these new developments in the field, how do you get the resources to train teachers on such topics?

To provide information for trainings, we’re constantly listening to educators, observing classrooms, hearing from school leaders, and doing research to develop new ideas and topics. We all work together as a team to identify the needs and best practices for teaching educators cutting-edge, relevant, timely content.

On the industry side, we work with a lot of subject matter experts to understand what it’s like to be in a given career, and then translate that for students. A lot of times those subject matter experts don’t know how to talk to teachers or students, but we do. So we often act as the teacher translator between the subject matter expert, company, or organization and the educators. 

How do you envision the next five years for WhyMaker?

We’re continuing in this clean energy space—there’s a lot of work to be done there and we’re eager to continue to do that work. We are going to continue to support educators in their instructional strategies with tips and tricks to work with students to get them engaged in their learning and make school the best part of children’s days. Also, we’ll continue to talk to teachers about ways of changing their pedagogical framework of teaching so that it is more hands-on, project-based, and community-focused. 

What do you see as the most prominent unmet needs in education right now?

Something that we discovered through some of our training is that students seem to lack the confidence that they need to be successful. We heard this from many teachers in many fields, where once students feel like they can do something, a very basic thing, they feel like they don’t need to learn any more to be better. Once there is something challenging, they shut down, and they don’t know how to persevere. Something we’re going to be working on in the next few months is creating professional development around building students’ confidence. We want to work with teachers about how they can talk to students when they are struggling through a difficult challenge or when they shut down and won’t persevere. We’ll explore how teachers can break down challenges so that students can feel success and want to keep growing. 

We think this is a result of a culture of instant gratification in our children, a pandemic where school was just something to move through, and a school system where there’s only one right answer. Schools, teachers, and students have been trained to get the one right answer with no alternatives—all other options are considered completely wrong. It’s a combination of all those factors that built this culture in our students, as well as the teenage mind that may want to just take the easy way out. So, we’ll be working with teachers to figure out paths through that to support kids amidst those challenges. 

Is there anything else you would like to highlight?

I just want people to know that we are available, as a MWBE,  to partner with them in this space to have a significant impact. We think the future of education is private public partnership and we are ready to be the intermediary. We want to support community outreach, we want to support teachers being the leads in career awareness in emerging industries. It’s important to us to work together to create these new pathways to empower students and educators to build the tools and skills for successful learning. 

WhyMaker works to design the future of education, creating impactful opportunities for educators and students to empower them to engage in purposeful, project-based learning. You can learn more about their programs and resources here


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