The World at Their Fingertips
Local tech company connects Speas students with its Romanian office
(pictured above: Small Footprint’s Steve Vest introduces Speas students to the Romanian team.)
A select group of Speas Elementary School fifth graders got a crash course last week in technology, office culture and the global marketplace during a visit to the downtown offices of the Small Footprint, Inc.
The firm builds web and mobile software applications for learning, play and an assortment of other uses. The 10 Speas students invited to the firm’s 22nd floor space in the Winston Tower building got a firsthand look at one of its newest innovations – Tereco, an application that Engagement Manager Steve Vest designed to assess teacher performance by using video and audio feeds to track and record a wide range of data. The software, which is taken from the Greek verb “to observe,” is already in use at Summit School, one of the project’s pilot sites. Vest also connected the students, via the video chat program Skype, with Small Footprints’ office in Cluj, Romania.
“In the United States right now, we have about 12 staff members, and in Romania, we have many, many more,” Vest told the youngsters. “I’ve asked them to join us today so you can see the differences between us and them. I think you’ll see that there aren’t many differences … we’re so much more alike than we are different.”
Local Footprint employees use Skype daily to communicate with the 80-member Romanian team about the company’s latest Web and mobile site design projects and smartphone and tablet applications.
The Romanian employees and the students chatted about the work of Small Footprint and compared notes on their respective hometowns, discussing favorite foods (pizza) and entertainment sources like the Cartoon Network, where some of the Romanians got their first English lessons.
“I think it’s very fascinating,” 11-year-old Taliya Lyons said of interacting with the Romanian team. “I wish I was there.”
Ten-year-old Lino Hernandez-Chavez said he was surprised to learn how similar the Romanian culture is to his own.
“I thought it was really different from us, but it’s actually kind of the same,” said the aspiring artist.
Speas Principal Robert Ash said the field trip showed students how technology is making the world a smaller place.
“We thought this would be an opportunity for the students to see how much they’re interacting on a global basis,” he said, adding that he hopes to get Skype accounts up and running for every classroom in the school by the end of the school year. “…The biggest thing (we’re trying to teach) is cultural acceptance and knowing that there’s more to society than Winston-Salem and North Carolina. They need to be aware that we live in a global society and if we’re going to have good jobs and be good members of our society, we have to be culturally accepting.”
Reem Farra, an English-as-a-Second Language teacher’s assistant, said the Speas students worked hard to bone up on their understanding of Romanian culture and customs in preparation for the trip.
“They were really happy and excited about this,” related Farra, a native of Syria. “They tried to get as much as much information about Romania as possible, so they could represent themselves well, and I think they did.”
In honor of the occasion, the students sampled Romanian food prepared by a Speas staffer. The field trip, which was extended only to high performing Speas students who have exhibited good behavior and leadership skills, was arranged by Vest and his wife Ginna, who serves as a testing and curriculum coordinator at Speas.
“With Speas being a global studies school and them working globally (at Small Footprint), we decided this would be a great experience for the kids to see how software transcends globally,” Ginna Vest said.
As his work environment demonstrates, having an awareness of cultures around the world is of increasing importance in the business world, said Dr. Rob Robless, a native of Malaysia and the vice president of Enterprise Services for Small Footprint.
“I’ve worked with companies from all over the world,” said Robless, who previously navigated the global marketplace as an employee of General Motors and American Airlines. “…There’s a lot of value to having a global understanding.”
In Romania, students often aspire to technology driven careers such as software engineering, but here in the United States, such ambition is far less common, said Small Footprint CEO and Founder Richard Starets, who spent 16 years living and working all over Eastern Europe. By hosting students from Speas and other area schools, Starets is hopeful he can spark a greater interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) careers among local youth.
“Here in the U.S., we still need to work hard to make math and science and technology an important or key element of our education and steer kids that way,” he noted. “…If I can help make that happen, then that’s what we want to do.”
Speas, which is home to a diverse student body, adopted a global studies theme this school year. The school recently hosted an International Day featuring foods, performances and presentations reflecting cultures from all over the world that drew over 500 attendees, Ash said. The veteran administrator said he is hopeful that the Small Footprint trip is the first of many experiential learning projects the school takes on.
“I appreciate Small Footprint giving us the opportunity to have our kids come in and experience this,” Ash said. “They’re even excited about just the view, the conference room, that kind of thing. Just the experience has been a big thing for them.”
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