Learning to Program!

In the spring, I decided it was time to understand a little bit more of the mechanics behind the analytics programs I was working on. I decided to learn some python.

I started with a weekend class with the NYC Data Science Academy (which I would highly recommend) and finished up the course with a project on a remittances data set I contributed to a few years ago. It was great to see what I could do with the data I had collected… even if it meant some really late evenings fighting with my computer and ultimately a lot of help from my programmer friends.

I have other friends working through programming classes and inspiring me to keep going with it, even when the going gets rough. Perhaps the funniest/most encouraging is my friend Kyra, who is a fellow informal economic researcher and beginner programmer. She runs a blog called How to Code a Sentence. (Side note: She’s also started this wonderful program called Snail Mail, check it out!)

Since then, I’ve been digging into some programming textbooks, going to more of the General Assembly Python classes, bothering my boyfriend about books that communicate the thinking behind computer algorithms to non-Caltech-Computer-Science-students (he’s working on finding me something), and trying to learn more about the thought processes behind the language.

It fascinates me because it is so different from the way that I think through problem solving and conceptualizing my projects. I am really enjoying developing my tool set, even when it feels clunky and awkward and requires a few hours of me staring at a terminal page trying to understand what is happening.

If you’re looking for an interesting side project, learn to code! I’m having a great time!

Visual Storytelling (from the Feast on Good blog)


Visual Storytelling, Diego Rivera Mural 1
image via

Growing up in Mexico, scenes from Diego Rivera’s murals in the Palacio Nacional in Mexico City were often copied into storybooks. These murals were a crucial piece of Mexican history as the country transitioned from revolution to a unified nation. It helped a population that spoke hundreds of languages piece together aspects of a shared past. This type of visual storytelling created timeless cultural pieces that allowed me to explain these stories beyond my community; I constantly learned to communicate better from them.

Stories help us become bridges between our communities. We can create and recreate those “Aha!” moments, where a concept or an idea briefly connects us to the person sharing it with us. While these murals mean one thing for me and another for someone else, we are able to share the experience of the story.

Social media makes it easier for our communities to grow across time zones, requiring us to engage with a wide variety of learners. The key to success lies in the presentation of the material. Kickstarter helps independent storytellers produce films that contribute to awareness/educational campaigns, like Preston Stringer’s “LGBT Queerstory: a Gay History Web Series.” This project tells stories about the Gay rights movement through claymation to encourage others to keep fighting for equality.

Visual storytelling is also making important strides in classrooms: one teacher, Aaron Reedy, tweeted that the lesson he gave in his biology classes on sex determination only reached about 1000 students in the 7 years he offered the class. After he produced a video version of his lesson on TED-Ed, he was able to reach 13,000 viewers in 3 days. The TED-Ed brings teachers together to make learning fun and engaging for all kinds of learners. Other platforms like InfoViz also take on concepts like the elements through playfully animated videos,designed to help students engage with the material.

How to feed the world? on Vimeo.

Similarly, businesses like Bridgewater produce videos that explain the diversity of the “economic machine” in 30 minutes to help consumers approach finance and investment opportunities with more clarity.

Today, we have the opportunity to brainstorm with talent across the globe – could telling your story through a visual language be the key to connecting your community to another, allowing you to learn from and progress with one another?

How have you seen visual storytelling used in creative, impactful ways?

By Diana Enriquez

Diana studies informal economies, social enterprises, and economic systems at Locus Analytics. She spends a lot of time exploring new neighborhoods, especially in Latin America.

Originally posted on the Feast on Good Blog

Talking about Healthcare and Health Education

Everyone remembers their first sexual health and wellness conversation. Imagine how much better it could have been if this conversation took place on a peer to peer level?

There are a number of great organizations like Yale’s Community Health Educators or the Peer Health Exchange that try to create safer spaces for teens and young adults to learn about health issues like nutrition, sexually transmitted illnesses and mental health, without leaving anyone out of the conversation.

Every state in the United States has a different way of handling or recommending health education programs in public schools. Some states, like California, have specific guidelines for the topics that must be covered and when they are to be taught in schools, for example, HIV/AIDS prevention instructions between 7-12th grade and parenting education in 7th or 8th grade.[1] Others are much less strict about the material and expected outcomes.

In 1999, communities in New Haven wanted to improve access health education resources. A teacher from Wilbur Cross High School and a group of Yale students came together to develop the Community Health Educators (CHE) and develop a comprehensive curriculum for high school students.[2] Since then, CHE has grown to a group of 150 volunteers, working in twenty-four middle schools and high schools in New Haven.[3] Michael Solotke, a former Coordinator for the program, says that the curriculum changes yearly and “is designed to empower students with skills and knowledge to help them make healthy decisions throughout their lives.”

The Peer Health Exchange (PHE) is a program that grew out of the original CHE and decided to address gaps in health education on a national level. Colleges in Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles and many other cities across the United States partner with PHE to provide similar comprehensive health education in schools across the country.[4]

“We really value being able to teach on a peer-to-peer level,” says Katherine Rich, one of this year’s coordinators for Communtiy Health Educators. Rich believes it plays an important role in teaching and communicating with teens about challenging topics like sexual and mental health.

New York City is one of PHE’s largest markets. This program is already partnered with New York University, Barnard College, Hunter College and a number of other institutions in the city, but they are always looking for dedicated volunteers.[5]

While both Solotke and Rich commented that there have been some exciting improvements in Health education resources over time, there is a still a lot to be done.

But new issues in health care and health education arise all the time.

How many of us have struggled to understand the fine print of health insurance contracts, doctor’s disclosure statements, and other more technical aspects of our healthcare system? How much are we really expected to know and be able to navigate on our own?

Some communities are also having trouble navigating the more technical parts of the healthcare system. While tools like ZocDoc are helping us find and review doctors, insurance coverage difficult to understand or use without a little guidance. Some organizations like Resources for Human Development in Philadelphia offer a “Health Insurance Navigator” program to help those who are newly insured navigate the health care system.[6]

It really seems like we need a degree of health education at every stage of our lives… does anyone know about any particular clinics that offer regular “health and healthcare education” classes for adults?

[Disclosure: this is a version of a post that might go up on another blog. Once the post goes up, I will credit it and link to the new version here]

[1] http://www.nasbe.org/healthy_schools/hs/bytopics.php?topicid=1100

[2] http://www.communityhealtheducators.org/about-us.html

[3] http://www.communityhealtheducators.org/about-us.html

[4] http://www.peerhealthexchange.org/about-us/

[5] http://www.peerhealthexchange.org/our-sites/new-york/

[6] http://www.rhd.org/Programs/FamilyHealthandCounseling.aspx

Why I Organize a Speaker Series at Work

I am one of those people who is constantly over-scheduled. Mostly, I want to be everywhere and learn about as much as I can from different people. It means I end up taking phone calls to talk about project designs while I’m walking from work to a lecture at General Assembly, send emails with comments on a draft of a talk or blog post in the 2 minutes before I walk into a restaurant to meet a friend for dinner, and sometimes have 3-4 “breakfasts” in a row on Saturdays with interesting people who like to talk about ideas.

I like working on a single project at a time. It’s really wonderful to have freedom to focus so carefully on the details and execution of something. But I learn most when I have to juggle, balance and talk to people. I know that about myself. That is why I never work on just one thing in a day. It helps me look at each piece through different lenses, and sometimes coming back to my first project after working on a second means I can troubleshoot solutions in a new way. I find I am frequently more inspired this way.

After I ended my summer at TED content, I missed building content and thinking about speakers/narratives. I started a new job doing research that I really cared about, but the details about presentations and narratives were missing. I went out of my way to find and attend lectures. Really, it was to keep learning about different schools of thought and interesting projects in fields besides my own.

I learned about Ant Colonies, start up pricing methodologies, and the basics of programming in Python outside of work… and realized that my teams here could benefit from more exposure to some of these topics.

I really admire companies that take the extra step to build their own lecture series in their offices. Groups like Undercurrent host work “retreats” that encourage their team members to stay up to date on different topics and work through interesting problem solving methodologies. TED hosts speakers once a month as part of the TED@250 speaker series and encourages their team members and their friends to attend.

The speaker series I organize at work started as an event series for the interns and full time staff to have breaks in their week and learn more about what else is going on in New York City… but it turned into a lot more when we started “locally sourcing” talks and learning about the pet projects and interests in our office besides our regular work flow. I think we all left with a new appreciation for all the things that our co-workers do outside of the office.

Now we are able to run a series of interesting thought leaders in different industries… and paint a richer picture of our company as a whole. It doesn’t get better than that!