“Never let the word No define who you are” With Penny Bauder & Niamani Knight

Never let the word “No” define who you are. There will be many barriers along the way and areas of opportunities to grow from; but, if we stopped, or gave up every time we heard the word “No,” we wouldn’t accomplish or experience the possibilities that may arise on the other side. As a part […]

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Never let the word “No” define who you are. There will be many barriers along the way and areas of opportunities to grow from; but, if we stopped, or gave up every time we heard the word “No,” we wouldn’t accomplish or experience the possibilities that may arise on the other side.

As a part of my series about “Lessons From Inspirational Women in STEM and Tech”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Niamani Knight.

Niamani Knight is the 18-year-old Founder of S.T.R.E.A.M. Kids Expo™ And Co-Founder of S.T.R.E.A.M. Global Innovations.

After being selected at the age of 13 to participate in the first Young Entrepreneurs Academy (YEA Program) in Lancaster, CA, Knight realized many of her peers (and students in general) seemed to struggle with some of the basic educational skill sets required for short and long-term success. She understands that these academic rocks can only be climbed through industry expert exposure, interactive learning, and peer support. Therefore, instead of producing a product to sell in the YEA program, Knight created a platform for students and businesses to showcase their talents and discuss possibilities. In 2015, she founded S.T.R.E.A.M. Kids Expo™, which emphasizes Science, Technology, Reading, Engineering, Arts, and Manufacturing. The event also includes entrepreneurship as she believes taking ownership of one’s passion and purpose inspires results.

Since the program’s launch, she’s done direct work with over 23,000 of her peers and reached millions through electronic and printed publications. Through her non-profit S.T.R.E.A.M. Global Innovations, Knight’s vision is to create a memorable experience for kids, schools, and communities. She also wants to increase access to S.T.R.E.A.M. programs in underprivileged and low performing neighborhoods to encourage a movement where kids are empowered to reach their fullest potential. In the future, she hopes to create a center where kids will have access to S.T.R.E.A.M. based learning daily. Until then, Niamani is both honored and humbled to have developing relationships with some of the world’s leading companies like Amazon, Lockheed Martin, Microsoft, PPG, and many more.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

While in middle school, it was strongly recommended by my parents (forced, of course) to interview for the first Young Entrepreneurs Academy (YEA) in Lancaster, CA. After a series of interviews, I was selected at the age of 13 to participate with twenty other students in the first YEA class. At the time, I didn’t realize my parents were preparing me for success by giving me permission to explore and own career possibilities. Had I known that I would one day partner with companies like Amazon, Lockheed Martin, PPG, Sprint, and Owens Corning to meet critical business needs, I questioned such an amazing opportunity.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?

There are so many great memories that I have thinking about the last 5 years. I remember during our second exhibition we had a school forget to register. Hundreds of kids outside waiting and another two hundred and fifty inside enjoying the experience. Our team was then faced with the toughest decision ever, which included, turning away a school of kids. This was the moment I understood how big the need was and how many students needed someone to provide them an opportunity.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

S.T.R.E.A.M. is a workforce solution. Through all of our programs, our mission remains the same; connect the dots between education and career. At all of our Expos, they consist of great conversations and interactive activities. However, at one of our recent Expos, it was confirmed a company hired three students in attendance off the Expo floor. I believe this story speaks to our mission. Something amazing happens when educators, industries, parents/guardians, students, and community comes together for the betterment of student success.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

During this pandemic, our organization has really come together to brainstorm on innovative ways to continue getting our information out to students and in communities that would not otherwise receive such access. S.T.R.E.A.M.’s mission continues to share the importance of “Connecting the Dots Between Education and Career.” In the upcoming weeks, we will be launching a virtual series with businesses and education leaders leading S.T.R.E.A.M. (Science, Technology, Reading, Engineering, Arts, and Manufacturing) industries.

Ok super. Thank you for all that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. Are you currently satisfied with the status quo regarding women in STEM? What specific changes do you think are needed to change the status quo?

Over the past few years, I’ve the privilege of being in contact with some amazing women and specifically women of color in STEM. However, I understand this is not the same for every student across the nation. One of the biggest things that I’ve seen in my personal Engineering and coding classes, throughout middle and high school, was the lack of female representation, Not only within the student population, but also amongst administrators. In order to change this status quo, I think it is important to start placing female instructors and women within the workforce in classrooms for students to mirror. This is the only way for students, especially girls in STEM classes, to visualize themselves working in careers related to STEM.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women in STEM or Tech that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts? What would you suggest to address this?

Well, we’ve all heard that women are given less opportunities than their male counterparts within STEM fields, this is certainly true in some cases considering the difference in payment to less job opportunities; however, I am seeing more and more companies invest in additional programs that are focused on the advancement of women. This is encouraging.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a woman in STEM or Tech. Can you explain what you mean?

One of the biggest myths I would like to dispel is that women are not interested in STEM careers. There are many young girls and women that are interested in this field, but even today have not been given the opportunity or may not know the various career options available in STEM and the academic steps to take to reach them.

What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience as a Woman in STEM or Tech” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. Failure is not a bad thing
  2. Leadership is not easy
  3. Get feedback from your network
  4. Communicate
  5. Be present

What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?

Never let the word “No” define who you are. There will be many barriers along the way and areas of opportunities to grow from; but, if we stopped, or gave up every time we heard the word “No,” we wouldn’t accomplish or experience the possibilities that may arise on the other side.

What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?

Managing teams can be challenging. This is something that I am still learning to do on a day by day basis. However, I think the best advice that I could give anyone that works at an organization or believes in community and collaborative efforts is to stick to your mission and find a team committed to fulfilling the vision you have created.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I am very thankful to have a phenomenal success team that have been in my corner every step of the way. Starting from my amazing parents, to teachers, principals, business leaders and a superintendent that believed in a 13 years old’s dream. I remember when I was an 8th grader attending Hillview Middle School, my Assistant Principal called my mom and asked if she could take me to a Principal’s meeting. That day, I made one of my first official presentations, As a teen entrepreneur, this was quite an experience because it lead to 400 of my middle school peers participating in our very first Expo.


How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

Success is something that our team is still working on, but I think we’ve made some strides in that direction. My mission in life is to give students what my parents gave me “permission to explore and own my career possibilities as early as possible.” Until every student has equal access to like opportunities, I remain dedicated to providing platforms for communities that would not otherwise have these experiences. Their success is my success, and the more platforms we can create for the communities in which they reside, the greater impact we will make for the world.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I confident through S.T.R.E.A.M. and the development of ongoing relationships with influential platforms like Thrive Global and Authority Magazine; we can expand our movement where industry leaders become more involved in the curriculum development of education. Practical experience will replace standardized testing, and eventually, by us, all working together, interactive learning becomes the normality of “Common Core.”

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“When basic education poses as rocks, you must teach how and why to climb” — Nikia Richards. This is a quote, my mom, Nikia Richards, shared with me when first starting STREAM. The quote reminds me every day that education is meant to stretch and grow people not to stop them, and, with a good enough WHY people will work harder. Eventually, what once seemed to be impossible will become a motivation to climb. Like she always says, “it’s not about the rock they initially see as that’s just a distraction. The real goal is to get them focused on what they will gain on the other side by staying motivated.” Enjoy the climb! The resilience will teach you how to recover quickly from difficulties and it is then that you can truly own your possibilities.

We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

Definitely Michelle Obama, her dedication to the success of students is inspiring and one that I aspire mirror image.

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