Couragion: Improving Perception and Awareness of STEM Careers

  • 25 January 2018
  • Expert Insights

This post is part of our new Future of Education series which interviews the leading founders and executives who are on the front lines of the industry to get a better understanding of what problems the industry is facing, what trends are taking place, and what the future looks like.

The following is an interview we recently had with Melissa Risteff, CEO & Co-Founder of Couragion.

1. What’s the history of Couragion? Where and how did you begin?

MR: Couragion is motivated by career literacy, equity and inclusion with a mission to inspire the underrepresented to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). Having personally spent the last few decades in tech – I was frustrated by the inability to assemble a diverse candidate pool and to find qualified talent in a timely manner. Only 9 months after Couragion was founded, we won the generous support of the National Science Foundation with our R&D to improve the perception and awareness of STEM careers and to broaden participation in the STEM fields. We now serve over ten thousand students and educators.

2. What specific problem does Couragion solve? How do you solve it?

MR: Career influencers are often not in the position to inform students of potential options and expose unnecessary bias. Couragion provides career literacy for educators so that they can be more informed – and thus be better coaches for students. If students understand the opportunities, they can pursue academic pathways to amass skills that better prepare them to enter the workforce. Career exploration and readiness focused on helping individuals select rewarding and suitable degrees, training, and careers will increase the likelihood that individuals stay in those careers. Couragion links education to industry with diverse role models, a “best fit” career algorithm, personal action plans, and skill-based mastery challenges.

Best Fit – Couragion

Couragion is different because our data-driven approach improves the perception and awareness of STEM careers and 90% of our students believe that Couragion is better than other tools they’ve used. Educators have stated that Couragion meets unsatisfied needs of exposing students to careers in a more purposeful, cost-effective manner while being accessible to all regardless of place, gender, family income, or ethnicity.


3. What’s the future of education?

Prediction#1: Interdisciplinary, multidisciplinary curriculum – For classroom instruction to become more relevant for students, teaching and learning must involve several different disciplines, specializations, and perspectives in the approach to teaching topics and solving problems. With this lens and effective educator collaboration, schools could be set up to deliver real-world contributions to society and their communities while students learn skills that prepare them for the future workforce.

Prediction #2: Credentials, certificates, seals, & endorsements – Standardized tests and letter grades don't prepare students for the workforce. Educational systems have started to embrace more modern forms of achievement and performance that improve workforce readiness. With new legislation appearing almost daily – Colorado approved a student STEM endorsement and incentives for industry certifications, Ohio approved a Career Readiness diploma seal, and Virginia lawmakers take aim to ensure dual-enrollment credits count at their public universities. Watch for more of this.

Prediction #3: Work-based learning initiatives – Experiential learning experiences are building multiple student pathways, highlighting alternative postsecondary options, and actively engaging industry to produce the next generation of talent. One of Couragion's partners – CareerWise – is providing innovative apprenticeships that will shift the paradigm of workforce readiness – and is forging the way for other apprenticeship programs across the nation. Industry partnerships are invaluable in these work-based learning models – and having kids learn that they’ve chosen the wrong path after they’ve engaged with a future employer can be a bridge burner and affect future placements. Couragion helps kids choose the right pathway in advance of those decisions.


4. What are the top 3 technology trends you’re seeing in education?

Trend #1: Machine learning, a subset of artificial intelligence (AI), enables systems to identify patterns in data to inform algorithms that can make data-driven predictions or decisions. In education, we're seeing machine learning impact everything from game-based learning to content analytics to assessment to workflows to adaptive learning systems. Couragion uses machine learning to generate insights about the perceptions of STEM careers. These insights are invaluable in understanding how to cultivate a STEM talent pipeline.

Trend #2: As computational thinking skills become increasingly more critical, educators must decide which tools and curriculum will provide the most opportunities for students especially when there are so many opinions out there. While school districts have rushed to add coding and robotics to their curriculum to embrace computational thinking, very few schools have incorporated career literacy and other technology-oriented programs to retain students in technology pathways. Couragion works with educators to take their computer science curriculum to the next level.

Trend #3: The ‘maker movement' continues to make its way into the mainstream. Dedicated, hands-on maker spaces will continue to gain popularity and cultivate foundational skills – enabling students to play, fail, and reflect – which contribute to student resiliency and creativity. Districts should think about integrating the ‘maker mindset' throughout learning experiences similar to how industry integrates concepts like ‘design thinking' throughout of the culture of an organization.

5. Why is the education industry ripe for disruption?

MR: With the advent of education technology, data and analytics are becoming increasingly more available. Data doesn't necessarily always translate into having more intelligence and insights at an educator's fingertips. With personalized knowledge about student passions, interests, and progress – educators can be better coaches. But making that information both consumable and actionable is a teacher professional learning hurdle that needs to be overcome and one we are focused on at Couragion.

Education will continue to be an evolving combination of face-to-face classroom instruction, team collaboration, work-based learning, and individualized technology experiences. Education technology will not replace educators – but their roles will continue to evolve. International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) educator standards call for teachers to be ‘Facilitators' who further learning with technology to support student achievement. When done successfully, education will begin to prepare students for the workforce of tomorrow, not yesterday.  

About Melissa Risteff

Melissa was an early evangelist and thought leader for the ‘future of work’. She started her career at General Electric and Sun Microsystems where she was a Six Sigma Black Belt and ran software engineering and analytics organizations. She went on to lead product, strategy, marketing, and services organizations in the educational technology and enterprise collaboration sectors. Melissa has a Master's degree in Computer & Information Technology Management from the University of Denver and a Bachelor’s degree in Marketing from Bentley University.

Melissa co-founded Couragion in 2015. In 2016, Couragion was awarded a SBIR Phase I grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF), won the support of AT&T Aspire, and was named the startup of the year by the Colorado Technology Association. In 2017, Couragion was awarded a SBIR Phase II grant from the NSF and an Advanced Industries Accelerator from the Colorado Office of Economic Development, and Melissa was named a ‘Thought Leader’ by the Denver Business Journal.

When not focused on education transformation, you can find her in the Pilates studio, on the trail, in the kitchen, or traveling the globe (41 countries and counting).

Follow Melissa on LinkedIn, Twitter, and her blog STEM Crossings!

Learn more from Couragion at,  Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter!

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