Jun 13
June 13, 2013

A World Without Salt: How Creative Writing and Cross-Sector Cooperation Help Kids See a New Side of STEM


This op-ed was written by Glenn Britt, chairman and CEO of Time Warner Cable, and Gerald Richards, chief executive officer of 826 National.

For our country to remain competitive in this ever-changing global economy and rapidly evolving, technology-driven world, we need to ensure that we are appropriately investing in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) skills and talent that serve as the critical building blocks to support our foundation and our future. At the same time these STEM professionals have to be creative and able to communicate. As one scientist in the aeronautic field aptly put it, "I need engineers but I need engineers that can write. In this business, a misplaced comma can kill."

But how do we light a spark in our youth to inspire them to pursue these critical subjects and infuse them with the creativity and curiosity needed to solve our grandest challenges? Classroom learning is critical, but it’s not enough. Another source of learning has to happen outside the classroom, where culture is the teacher.

But vying for space in the minds of our youth in the swirl of popular culture today requires unexpected approaches. And science and math are no competition for Katy Perry and Lady Gaga. Or are they?

Time Warner Cable’s (TWC) partnership with 826 National began at Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) America in 2011 with a basic question, "How do we make STEM more engaging, especially to low-income and under-resourced students?" Our CGI America Commitment to Action was built on TWC’s five-year initiative to Connect a Million Minds to the wonders of STEM in informal and fun ways outside of the classroom and to infuse STEM principles into 826 National’s proven creative writing model.

826 National is founded on the idea that writing and learning can be fun and creative. The organization already had STEM- themed writing curriculum (highlighted in its book Don’t Forget to Write,) but there was no hands-on science involved. Time Warner Cable was able to leverage one of its partners, the Coalition for Science After School (CSAS), to assist in developing the hands-on STEM components that could be incorporated into the curriculum.

The result was a four-week STEM and Creative Writing pilot program conducted in the summer of 2012 at 826 National chapters in Los Angeles and New York, where more than 60 kids engaged in hands on learning around a range of fun and inquiry-based topics including the science behind ice cream and deep space exploration. In one lesson, kids designed their own experiments to determine whether salt or sugar made ice melt faster. The resulting discussion around the properties of salt led to a creative writing exercise where students composed their own short story about a scientist that wakes up one morning in a world without salt.

We were pleased with the success of the program, which increased students’ desire to study science (12% increase) and boosted confidence in doing well in science (10% increase). It also produced two student-authored STEM themed publications, Don’t Forget a Rocket (826LA) and The Ballerina and The Hurricane (826NYC).

The partnership between Time Warner Cable and 826 National is a perfect example of how two very different entities—one built on technology and innovation and the other a catalyst for creativity—can combine forces to make a meaningful difference in fostering a generation of critical thinkers and problem solvers.

About the Authors

Glenn Britt is the chairman and CEO of Time Warner Cable. Britt is a Cable industry luminary whose influential career has spanned four decades. Among his numerous business accomplishments was overseeing the launch of Road Runner, the country’s first cable-delivered high-speed Internet service, in 1996. He serves on the boards of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA), CableLabs, Pearl Harbor Memorial Fund, Xerox Corporation, The Paley Center, Cardinal Health, FIRST Robotics and Manhattan Theatre Club. In December 2009, Britt was one of five corporate executives asked by President Obama to form a task force charged with strengthening America’s economic competitiveness through leadership in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education. The recipient of numerous honors, he received a Bachelor of Arts in economics from Dartmouth College and a Master of Business Administration from the Amos Tuck School of Business Administration at Dartmouth.

Gerald Richards is the chief executive officer of 826 National. With 20 years of management and development experience at national nonprofit organizations, including the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship where he served as the executive director of the Bay Area office, Richards is a respected trainer and sought-after speaker on topics of youth and education access. He is interviewed regularly on these topics and has appeared on NBC’s Nightly News with Brian Williams, CNN’s Anderson Cooper’s 360, and The Michael Eric Dyson Show, as well as in publications including The San Francisco Examiner and Inc. Magazine. In 2008, Richards was named one of 101 African-American Champions for Youth in the Bay Area. His nonprofit career also includes positions with the United Negro College Fund; University of California, San Francisco; the J. David Gladstone Institutes; Chicago Panel on Social Policy; and The Cradle Foundation. He has a Bachelor of Arts in film studies from Wesleyan University and a Master of Fine Arts in writing from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and the Clinton Global Initiative in recognition of CGI's third meeting of CGI America (June 13-14, 2013 in Chicago). CGI America convenes business, government, and civil society leaders each year to make commitments promoting domestic economic recovery and the long-term competitiveness of the United States.