Apr 30, 2015
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Youth got excited about math and science — while educators and community leaders learned ways to set them up for careers related to those subjects — at a large summit at Richmond Memorial Auditorium on Thursday.

The Richmond Community Foundation’s sixth annual Northern California Summit on Children and Youth, this year themed “Bridging the STEM Diversity Gap,” included a keynote address from Richmond-raised Erik Moore, a former investment banker turned entrepreneur who was a seed investor in Zappos.com, which was sold to Amazon for $1.2 billion.

Half of the auditorium was sectioned off for information booths, discussions among community members about opportunities in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education and careers, and interactive activities for youth.

stem.4-30-1Kids were especially fond of the $30,000 simulator called SimSpray, where they strapped on electronic head gear, clutched a joystick resembling a spray gun and painted digital vehicles. The Contra Costa College collision repair department brought the device as a way to engage youth.

Also popular with the kids: AT&T brought a texting-while-driving simulator (see top photo) to teach about the perils of distracted driving.

Young people also took part in a tricky engineering challenge: To see who could build the tallest free-standing structure using 20 marshmallows and 25 toothpicks (see photo below).

stem.4-30-2The activities are meant to help get youth excited and engaged in subjects like science and engineering as U.S. schools struggle to produce enough qualified workers for jobs of the future, said Terese Barnett, executive director of Community Resources for Science.

The other half of the auditorium included panel discussions on trends in STEM-related fields, education and career paths, and of course bridging the diversity gap so that certain minority youth and girls can be connected to lucrative jobs.

Mayor Tom Butt, Vice Mayor Jael Myrick and City Manager Bill Lindsay were among those on the agenda to offer remarks. Officials with the West Contra Costa Unified School District mingled with representatives of local companies and community organizations such as Chevron Richmond, Kaiser Permanente and Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco.

Moore’s keynote address (see photo below) connected with the stories of many local youth. He said he faced the same difficult choices while growing up in Richmond, deciding to pursue education instead of getting sucked into the seedy lives of some of his friends who ended up killed. He talked about being teased as a child for his dark skin tone and weight, but how his mother’s complimentary observations did a lot to boost his confidence so he could become successful.

stem.4-30-3After an undergraduate degree at Dartmouth College, Moore became such a successful investment banker at Merrill Lynch he was able to retire in 2011. He became an investor and entrepreneur and along with Zappos.com was also a seed investor in Agencourt Biosciences, which was sold to Beckman Coulter for $270 million.

Moore said his mentors are successful entrepreneurs who give back to their communities. He himself has been doing just that, most recently as a board member for the East Bay College Fund assisting Oakland youth. He also invests in African American-run businesses and is intent on helping the community where he was raised. At Dartmouth, Moore said he never claimed to be from San Francisco, Oakland or the Bay Area, but Richmond.

“I believe the success of each of you is important for Richmond,” Moore said.

Moore also imparted a grain of wisdom he said was integral to his success and others.

“Be nice,” he said.

The successful investor’s parents, particularly his father, who was beloved by colleagues at the Social Security Administration office in Richmond, taught him that being kind to others is a key to both success and happiness.


About the Author

Mike Aldax is the editor of the Richmond Standard. He has 13 years of journalism experience, most recently as a reporter for the San Francisco Examiner. He previously held roles as reporter and editor at Bay City News, Napa Valley Register, Garden Island Newspaper in Kaua’i, and the Queens Courier in New York City.