Meagan Naraine, Co-Founder of Culturally Relevant Science, is an experienced Science Educator & rising Instructional Coach in Atlanta, GA. She earned a Biology, B.S. from Emory University & Broad Field Science, M.A.T. from Georgia State University. She has 5+ years of experience teaching in low-income schools with predominantly Black & Brown students.
Because of the rigorous, student-centered, culturally relevant curriculum she develops, she has a tremendous track record of increasing students’ standardized test scores 14-21+%. Additionally, she is a ‘18 Teach For America Alum & ‘25 Robert Noyce DSPETL Teacher Fellow.
Tamir Mickens, Co-Founder, is an experienced Science Educator & Instructional Coach in Atlanta, GA. He earned his Biology, B.S. from Morehouse College & Instructional Technology, M.S. from Kennesaw State University.
He has 10+ years of experience in Title-I, middle & high schools with predominantly Black & Brown student populations. From this experience, he noticed a severe underrepresentation of his students’ identities in district STEM curriculum. As a result, he taught himself digital content creation, in efforts to build a more engaging and inclusive STEM curriculum for Black & Brown identities.
What You’ll Learn In This Episode
- How did the idea for the venture come about
- The progress of the venture right now
- Major challenges they have faced
- Other organizations that have lent a hand in their growth
- How can people support or donate
This transcript is machine transcribed by Sonix
Intro: [00:00:04] Broadcasting live from the Business RadioX Studios in Atlanta, Georgia. It’s time for Atlanta Business Radio. Brought to you by on pay. Atlanta’s New standard in payroll. Now, here’s your host.
Lee Kantor: [00:00:25] Lee Kantor here so excited to be doing this special edition of Atlanta Business Radio. This is the GSU radio series that we’ve been doing for quite some time now where we celebrate the goings on over there at GSU. Any program, and especially the Main Street Entrepreneurship Seed Fund participants and finalists. And so excited to be talking to two of them. Today. We got Megan Noreen and Tamir Mickens with Culturally Relevant Science. Welcome.
Tamir Mickens: [00:00:56] Glad to be here and we thank you for having us.
Lee Kantor: [00:00:58] Well, I’m excited to learn what you’re up to. Tell us a little bit about culturally relevant science. How are you serving folks?
Tamir Mickens: [00:01:05] Absolutely. So culturally relevant Science is a 500 and 1C3 nonprofit founded by myself, Tamir Mickens and Megan Rain. And our goal is to increase representation in Stem amongst historically underrepresented communities. So whether those be black, brown, indigenous communities, the Lgbtqia community, communities of low socio income and we do this by creating and customizing digital resources and curriculum for teachers to use in those communities.
Lee Kantor: [00:01:34] So what was the genesis of the idea? How did this kind of get started?
Meagan Naraine: [00:01:41] Yeah, so essentially it originated during Covid when school was shut down and everything became virtual. We’ve been teaching for a combination of over ten years and it was a lot easier when we were in the classroom to engage our students and be those people of color and those representations inside the classroom. But when schools went virtual, it was harder. We obviously we weren’t in front of our students. We didn’t really know our students. And then we we were stuck to showing YouTube videos and we noticed that a lot of the YouTube videos didn’t look it didn’t have representations that looked like the students that were sitting behind in our classrooms, behind their screens. So we just started making videos during lockdown in our apartments, in our backyards, being the people in the videos, animating them just learning these different skills. And we realized they were big hits. And I called Tamir and I was like, We should turn this into something, make a bunch of resources and just change the game for when it comes to Stem videos and worksheets and lessons.
Lee Kantor: [00:02:39] Now, how important was it for you both growing up? You both decided to get into this field and to be educators and to touch on science and technology and the other Stem pillars. How how did you kind of make it? What was what helped you get to the level you’re at today where you can help other people and pull other people up? Was there a mentor or was there some resources that you were able to take advantage of in order to get to where you are?
Tamir Mickens: [00:03:08] Absolutely. Well, for myself, I come from a family of educators, so my mother was a science teacher in my community, DeKalb County. So growing up, I always just had that background and I was fortunate and privileged in certain ways to have to people in the home that valued education, particularly Stem education. I was able to go to Morehouse College at a very early age for different Stem camps, which led me to actually attend there. And so just being surrounded by all of those positive images in my community really instilled that love for science and community within me. But just because I had it, you know, it didn’t mean that all of my peers necessarily had it. It doesn’t mean that the other people in my community or the students I eventually taught had those same privileges, so just wanted to share it with them and spread it to those that don’t.
Lee Kantor: [00:04:04] Now, once you had the idea for the videos and and having yourself kind of star, I guess, star in them, when did you realize, hey, we might have something there? What was kind of the first evidence of some traction?
Meagan Naraine: [00:04:19] Yeah. So both Tamara and I are Teach for America alumni. So we teach for America. They. They train you and then they place you in underserved schools. And you you’re you work with them for two years, and then you choose if you want to stay and teach after that. And so someone saw us through Teach for America. Andy Appleton She was like, Hey, I see you guys started this nonprofit, this organization, this idea, you should come pitch, pitch in our Shark Tank event. So they have a mini shark tank every year in metro Atlanta. So we we never pitched before. We had no idea what a pitch was. But they coached us and we pitched and we won the grand prize there. And that was our first money, first grant, first revenue coming in and our first time feeling like we really, really had something special there. So Teach for America has poured a lot into us and our development and our coaching.
Lee Kantor: [00:05:12] Absolutely. Now, when did you start getting feeling that you were getting traction from the end users, the people that you really ultimately want to serve?
Tamir Mickens: [00:05:21] I’d say after our first year in starting to. Did our bit of funding together and we started to kind of invest in honing our skills. We made our videos a bit more, I guess. I don’t know if I want to say high end, but we invested more time into the animation and actually getting more dialog and funny things in our videos. And we Megan had the idea to do something very, very generic in science. So we made a video on lab safety and I pulled in a lot of things that I’d seen over the years and funny jokes and scenarios. And that was our first video that truly blew up to where it wasn’t just students watching it in our school, students around the country, teachers around the country, world, just commenting and liking and sharing that video. And that really helped our followers to increase on social media, YouTube, our views. That video is almost at 20 K views on YouTube right now. So that was our first, if you want to call it a big break or whatever.
Lee Kantor: [00:06:24] Now, was it to go from being a teacher, you know, where you have a job and that’s kind of pretty straightforward and structured to running a, you know, a new venture like you are, where it’s kind of a blank sheet of paper and no one gives you a manual on, Oh, here on Tuesday, I do this, you know, like you have you’re kind of making this stuff up as you go along. How do you kind of hone in on that kind of entrepreneurial, entrepreneurial kind of mindset of we got to make something happen every day. We got to grow certain metrics. Those are important to us. I mean, that’s a different type of thinking than, you know, being a teacher that has a curriculum that, you know, next week you’re doing a certain thing.
Meagan Naraine: [00:07:10] Yeah, absolutely. Um, that is just something. So we apply for a lot of fellowships and a lot of kind of like Main Street, of course, things like that that will teach us the business side of things, the entrepreneurship side of things, the nonprofit side of things that we didn’t get in our classroom education career. And we just we just keep pouring ourselves into that. We keep holding each other accountable. Um, we have two different, very different skill sets. Timéa is the digital guy. He makes all the videos, does all the web stuff, and I’m more so like the grant writer, the person that kind of applies for everything, organizes everything. And we just really, if we ever have deadlines and anything like that, we hold ourselves accountable. And then we join fellowships to hold ourselves accountable even more.
Lee Kantor: [00:07:55] So you’ve been able to get some of the kind of the entrepreneurship basics, kind of the foundational elements of running a business through some of the things that you’ve entered and won have been able to help you kind of get the knowledge you need to kind of grow the business.
Meagan Naraine: [00:08:14] Absolutely. So we did social innovation through TFA. That was our like ideation stage pitching stage. Then we did 4.0 schools as tiny fellowship. They were more of our customer discovery stage. And then now we’re doing Main Street. Who’s now We’re trying to get them to help us in our minimum viable product development and actually like run a pilot with the product that we plan to create. So everything is happening in different stages. We’re learning different things from all these different fellowships.
Lee Kantor: [00:08:44] But it sounds like conceptually, I mean, ultimately you want to create content for this end user person, but the way you get to that end user, your client might not be the end user, it might be the school or it might be something else.
Tamir Mickens: [00:08:57] Yeah.
Tamir Mickens: [00:08:59] Absolutely. So we’re currently trying to actually make sure we understand who our actual customer is going to be because there’s a wide variety when it comes to education as far as who is on the other end of the product. And so these fellowships that we’re in are really helping us to kind of streamline that and figure out who we need to be targeting.
Lee Kantor: [00:09:21] Right? Because whatever you pick, I’m sure there’s a it’s a different strategy if you’re trying to reach educators than it is if you’re trying to be. Mark Rober. Right. And go directly to the the consumer.
Tamir Mickens: [00:09:35] Yes. It proves to be difficult at times, as you stated, and myself, too, when it comes to education. So many people are involved and we know that ultimately we’re creating our project mean our product for teachers. But at the end, the teachers have to use it with the students. So what they enjoy and what they need, you know, that has to be in our minds as well. But teachers cannot just purchase curriculum or products for themselves. That tends to have to go through like a principal or any type of program coordinator for a county. So there are just so many different facets involved figuring out who we’re serving because sometimes it’s almost all three at once, right?
Lee Kantor: [00:10:20] Well, it’s one of those things where you think and this is an. Portant lesson for other entrepreneurs to be clear on who your ideal customer is like in your case, the purchaser. Where money changes hands is not going to be the person that is going to be learning from the videos. No. Right. You have to convince some bureaucrat or educator high up in an organization that they should invest in this type of an educational tool to help them achieve the goals that they want to do with test scores or whatever their metrics that matter are. So it’s an interesting choice that you’ll have to make as you grow the business.
Tamir Mickens: [00:11:00] Absolutely.
Lee Kantor: [00:11:02] Now, was that frustrating or is that something that you’re like, okay, well, this is just the task at hand, so this is what we have to do.
Tamir Mickens: [00:11:10] We’re learning as we go. It is a bit frustrating because, you know, you have so many different schools of thought on that and with the different fellowships that we enter. There are some that are more so on that business side and figuring out like you need to target the purchasing power. And then there are some that are more in the creative side like, well, how are the students interacting with this? And we have to find some sort of middle ground. So we find that with the students, we’re targeting their engagement with the actual content itself. Same for the teachers, but not really the higher end of our spectrum. They tend to be more focused on the outcomes. So like what is the data looking like with students, their test scores and retention, things of that nature? So we really have to hit.
Tamir Mickens: [00:11:59] But all.
Tamir Mickens: [00:11:59] Three sides. And yes, it can be frustrating, but it’s just it’s a part of it and it’s a learning experience.
Lee Kantor: [00:12:06] Right. The frustration to me, I don’t want to speak for you would be that I’m creative and I want to make videos that get kids excited and then that becomes a back burner thing because I got to convince some educator that’s, you know, high up that they should even do this before I can even begin the process of making the videos. And that was the kind of the catalyst of the whole idea was making videos.
Tamir Mickens: [00:12:33] So that’s what when Megan said, we have two different skill sets, that’s where it really helps us because I will be kind of like what you just said, focused more on the creative side. And Megan is there to make sure, like the metrics behind that match up so that we’re working hand in hand. And she will kind of guide me on like where those things need to go creatively so that we have the metrics to back it up. Um, and yeah, that’s.
Tamir Mickens: [00:13:04] Well, yeah, that’s.
Meagan Naraine: [00:13:04] That’s something that’s so funny that you bring it up because it’s literally something we are struggling with right now. Um, because like that joy of being creative, like, that’s all. Tamara But as we grow and as we develop and as people are expecting us to scale and actually get into schools like some of that creativity gets lost because we do have to, unfortunately, as you said, appeal to a bureaucrat and appeal to the higher ups and convince them that what we have and all of this creative fun stuff that we’re making actually does increase state test scores.
Lee Kantor: [00:13:34] Now, was there a point where you were considering, hey, there’s a space in the marketplace for a person of color like Mark Rober? I mean, I hate to keep talking about him, but to me he’s a really good example of a person using Stem in videos to really capture a young person and to really inspire them to, you know, at least consider a career in Stem. So I don’t want to belabor him, but he’s somebody top of mind that’s popular, that is targeting that similar type person that you are, but maybe not exactly.
Meagan Naraine: [00:14:06] Yeah. So as we as we grow and as we develop, I think we want to the reason why we’re approaching schools now is because we want to make the curriculum for teachers as opposed to just being a presence on YouTube and just making educational videos. We want to be able to write comprehensive curriculum from day one to the last day of school that is all culturally relevant, that has all of the slideshows, all of the worksheets, all of the discussions, all of the labs, experiments, anything that teacher would need to have cultural relevance being implemented in their classroom every day. So yes, we make the videos. Yes, they people love our animated videos, but we want that to be one aspect of the final product that we create. So every learning standard will have one of our animated videos for it, but it’ll also have all of the other stuff that teacher needs to just do a whole lesson.
Lee Kantor: [00:14:57] Right now. I’m not I’m not trying to poke holes in that strategy, but that’s a strategy and that there was a point, I’m sure that there was a fork in the road that says, hey, do we go directly to the individual or do we go through the schools? There had to be an inflection point where you made a choice and said, No, we’re not going to go to the individual, we’re going through this to the school. And then once you made that choice, then obviously there’s different strategies and different parts that are, you know, the dominoes that fall that are, you know, correspond to that choice. Was there a choice? Did you have that point of inflection where you were like, well, maybe we should go directly to the kids and we’ll just do these videos and we’ll build a YouTube audience. There’s lots of people who have done that. That’s not a new idea. It seems like a possible idea. I just want to understand how when if you did hit this point of inflection, you know what how you kind of weighed the tradeoffs of going one way or another.
Tamir Mickens: [00:16:01] Yeah.
Meagan Naraine: [00:16:01] So when we first launched, we wanted to make everything free and we wanted to have a free learning hub of YouTube videos, all of that. And I guess the point, the the point where we changed our mind was as we went through coaching and mentorship in the fellowships that we were in, they we really learned the value in what we were creating and we kind of shifted to, um, being able to like make a larger impact, but also make a lot of money off of what we create instead of just doing this, this free platform because we wanted teachers to have free access, because we know how teachers don’t have that money to buy stuff on their own for their classroom or how hard it is or how like they have to get fundraisers and donations. So essentially we were like, if we can approach the schools, then teachers still aren’t paying for it. The schools are.
Tamir Mickens: [00:16:49] And the other difficult aspect of that because yes, for sure, originally we did want to just go directly to the users. So it was kind of like, yes, just get videos that are popular enough to. Where kids will see them. The issue with that, the marketing and just that YouTube game all together is very difficult. So you’re almost just waiting for a viral moment because one, you have to understand that if it isn’t already popular, getting in that niche and just thinking that students will just be searching for educational videos even no matter how funny they are, just free will. That type of soul competition is difficult. So we had that fork in the road, as you suggested, and we found that it would probably be easier or quicker in order to get the videos in front of the students to go through the schools, because that is a place where they will have no like I don’t want to say no option to interact with it, but just hoping that it would get in front of them on their own. That’s just a very large just chance of free will and the YouTube algorithm and if they are looking for it or what’s in demand in the moment.
Lee Kantor: [00:17:57] Right? Well, no, I mean, it makes sense. Like you get more leverage and you get kind of more you get a multiplier effect. You know, one one sale to a school could be, you know, 500 kids where to get 500 individual kids would be extremely difficult and it would take a long time. So and that may not happen, like you said, because there are so many other things out there on on YouTube that they could be watching. That isn’t your thing. So I understand. I was just trying to understand that point because a lot of I’m trying to this is also for other entrepreneurs listening, there’s points of inflection where you have to pick a you have to make a choice. And and those choices, in hindsight, they seem like obvious, but at the moment they’re very difficult because, you know, the path you are going down now is completely different than the path would have been if you said, I’m going to go to the people individually, you would be doing totally different things. You would every day. You’d be working on something else that you’re not working on. But it’s interesting.
Tamir Mickens: [00:19:04] That goes back to.
Meagan Naraine: [00:19:05] The frustration part, because you have to make so many choices and different paths. Like it kind of feels like you’re starting over, over and over again and you kind of lose track of how much growth and progress you’ve made. And so like, you really do have to step back and just look at where you started from and where you are now. And don’t let those choices and those different paths deter you from feeling like you’ve made progress.
Lee Kantor: [00:19:25] Right? And you got to kind of leave those other choices behind and kind of almost like Men in Black, you know, you know, hit yourself with that little thing that erases your memory where you’ve just got to be like, Today’s the day we’re going boldly forward this way. And and this is what we got to do. And you can’t kind of look back in a lot of different places there Now. How as you’ve moved forward, have you gotten traction with schools? Have you been able to make any inroads in schools so that, you know, you can play out some of these scenarios and see the videos in the hands of these kids through the schools?
Tamir Mickens: [00:20:01] Absolutely.
Tamir Mickens: [00:20:02] So of course, we started with our actual school that we worked in, and from there we had neighboring districts. We were at one point, we had our hand in a lot of different things, so we would be doing exposure trips and curriculum packaging. So but by that you would end up having those schools end up invested in the videos as well. So we would end up moving towards our neighboring districts, DeKalb County of Rockdale.
Meagan Naraine: [00:20:35] Fulton, Clayton.
Tamir Mickens: [00:20:37] That and then we started moving into charter schools. We did some curriculum writing for charter schools in New Jersey and other partnerships with private schools in the area to where we were in the mix of getting the curriculum purchased by a school in Atlanta public schools. So that is how the traction picked up and started spreading. So we’re just hoping for more of that now.
Lee Kantor: [00:21:05] And and the sale is different now. This is kind of a business to business sale rather than a business to consumer sale because. Right. You now have to convince an organization, which is it’s a complex sale that you have have to probably explain a lot of stuff and have a lot of evidence and a lot of resources to show that you can deliver on the promise you’re making.
Meagan Naraine: [00:21:27] Yeah. And that’s so like the reason why we do all of these fellowships. And something valuable that I’ve learned from, especially Main Street, is your final product is going to be made in stages. So like we wanted to create this all full digital learning platform immediately, but someone was like, slow down. Like, do you even know that works yet? Like, how are you going to convince a school to even buy this long, drawn out platform and you’re probably going to waste some money on it. And so and so. So we’re taking it by steps in Main Street. We’re doing a pilot plan in a school in APS where we are working with four biology teachers that are not us. That’s the first time that none of the teaching is going to be done by us. They’re going to have curriculum from day one to the last day and this one school, and then that’ll be our pilot school of like, here’s this, here’s the data from this one school, that little microcosm that we worked in. And then hopefully the next stage of our minimum viable, viable product will be having some type of platform where we bring on more schools.
Lee Kantor: [00:22:22] Good stuff. Well, it’s exciting times. This is a this is I mean, this is probably not you probably didn’t imagine the stuff you’re doing today is what you would be doing when you had this idea initially.
Tamir Mickens: [00:22:36] Absolutely not. I mean, we started making videos. I know my first one was with my dog in my backyard. And it was just, you know, just to give the kids something else besides a guy behind a black screen doing math on a board. You know, it was it was all fun and games. But the why behind it is still there. You know, we want to see the kids involved. We want to see them engaged. We want them to know that the things that they’re experiencing at their homes, in their communities, it is all science. And that is what’s fueling all of our thirst for the business knowledge, for metrics, for figuring out our product and consumers. That is always going to be at the base of what it is that we’re doing.
Lee Kantor: [00:23:21] So right. Your true North hasn’t changed. It just, you know, the tactics and the how you get there might be shifting slightly and you’re learning as you go, but your true north is still there. Your big Y is still there.
Tamir Mickens: [00:23:36] Absolutely. And always will.
Tamir Mickens: [00:23:38] Be.
Lee Kantor: [00:23:38] So now, how has it been working with the Main Street folks? Has that been a good experience for you?
Meagan Naraine: [00:23:45] It’s been amazing. Um, the knowledge that like has and the, the pushing of, of him and like just because we’re in such a different stage right now, we need more of that business. The numbers the like value proposition, the unit cost of what we’re making all of that like we’re just so lost because we are just classroom teachers. And so is he creates individualized plans for everyone in the program, and those plans help that business grow exactly from where they’re at. So everyone is not necessarily doing the same thing. But there were still attending the same workshops and all of that. But the pilot plan that each of us are working on, it’s just it’s going to insanely grow every organization. That’s part of it.
Lee Kantor: [00:24:32] Yeah, it’s a lot to learn and it can be overwhelming. But have you noticed, do you see kind of the business world in your career maybe through a different lens now? When you see being an entrepreneur, it’s not as simple as, Oh, I have an idea here, I’ll just throw it out there. And now I’m successful. Like, like there’s a lot of moving parts and you have to kind of think a little differently than you would if you were just an employee at a at a job somewhere.
Tamir Mickens: [00:25:00] Absolutely.
Tamir Mickens: [00:25:00] Lee You know, there have been several wake up calls and just different perspectives. Just sometimes when you win a pitch competition or you get some views on YouTube, you you can kind of blind yourself and thinking that, you know, oh, everybody will want this, everybody will want this thing that we have and the different sessions we’ve gone through at Main Street. Wait a minute. Now, like, let’s talk about authentic demand. Let’s talk about not trying to build something for your customer, actually looking for what it is that they truly desire and not thinking that because you’re giving this survey or asking people what do they like this? Is it something that you need to truly move forward with that has been extremely insightful and game changing for us and we’re incredibly grateful and thankful for those opportunities.
Lee Kantor: [00:25:55] So what do you need more of? How can we help you?
Tamir Mickens: [00:26:00] Um, well, first, this is just a great opportunity itself. We always want opportunities to branch out for people who don’t know that we’re doing this type of work. So any exposure experiences that you all offer will be glad to tack on to. More interest in our social media platforms. We’re on all of the major platforms Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube. You all can follow us. It’s probably CR underscore Sky. We definitely appreciate it.
Meagan Naraine: [00:26:34] Yeah, definitely. Youtube subscriptions. We’re almost to the 1000 mark.
Tamir Mickens: [00:26:38] So that’s a that’s a big.
Lee Kantor: [00:26:40] Important milestone for every YouTuber.
Meagan Naraine: [00:26:43] An important milestone. Yes. And then, you know, just donate, just watch our stuff, keep up with us. Like we really just need more eyes on us.
Tamir Mickens: [00:26:50] Absolutely.
Lee Kantor: [00:26:51] And then the website for anybody who wants to kind of plug in.
Meagan Naraine: [00:26:54] Yes, the website is w-w-w dot c, r sky.org.
Lee Kantor: [00:27:02] Good stuff. Well, congratulations on all the momentum so far. You’re both doing such important work and we appreciate you.
Tamir Mickens: [00:27:09] We appreciate you.
Meagan Naraine: [00:27:10] Thank you so much.
Lee Kantor: [00:27:12] All right. This is Lee Kantor once again for the GSU. Radio show. It is so important to support the folks that are building a better tomorrow. This is Lee Kantor. We’ll see you all next time.
Tamir Mickens: [00:27:25] See you later. Thank you.
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