Latinitas Gets Girls into Tech


Get the full story on NPR’s Latino USA.

Out of all the people earning bachelor’s degrees in STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and math), just eight percent are Latinos. That number shrinks even more when you look at the number of Latinas (female students).

Alma Benitez was one of those Latinas trying to break into the STEM field, but she faced more obstacles than the prejudice she faced being a Latina: her family hid her college acceptance letters because they didn’t want her to leave home for college. With pressure from inside and outside the home, Alma found support in Latinitas, an after school club for Latinas in Texas that encourages young Latinas to get excited for science, with the hopes that they’ll grow up and pursue a career in STEM.

Reporter Brenda Salinas gives us a glimpse at the particular struggle Latinas face in the world of STEM. She speaks with Alma about her struggle to pursue her dreams, and with Laura Donnelly, the founder of Latinitas, who’s also a Latina computer scientist.



Oil bust forces Texas H-1B visa holders to exit country

Check out the full story on Marketplace.


Twenty thousand workers have been laid off this year in the oil and gas industry across the country as the price of oil has slumped. The cutbacks are especially hard for foreign workers here on what are known as H-1B visas. For them, getting laid off doesn’t just mean leaving the office, it means leaving the country.

Scottish-born Graeme Slaven loves living in Katy, Texas.

“We like the fact that it’s easy to make friends here, we like the fact that the education system is fantastic,” Slaven said. “We enjoy being able to live in a house that for the same price back in the U.K. would be about a third or a quarter of the size.”

Slaven had survived several rounds of layoffs at the oil and gas security company where he worked for seven years. When his bosses called him into their office a few weeks ago, he wasn’t surprised. “I wasn’t in shock then, I could read the situation,” he said.

 The same thing had happened to a lot of the friends he met at his local golf club. In just a few months, he saw his entire expat community shrink.

“I actually got to the point where I couldn’t face going to any more going-away parties,” Slaven said. “They were happening with increasing regularity.”

Before getting a pink slip, Slaven was in line to get a green card. He owns a home, his sons play on local soccer teams. His youngest, Niall, who’s 9, has lived here since he was a toddler. “There are only, like, two people that I know in Scotland,” he said.

Slaven and his expat friends used to play golf at the Willow Fork Country Club.

“Every Friday during Lent we had fish and chips, and we had a big crowd that showed up for that,” club manager Richard Rowell said. “You know, if an Englishman tells you the fish and chips are pretty good, you have a thumbs up.”

The exodus of foreign oil workers has hit the club pretty hard in the last few months.

“Eighty to 100 families have relocated to their home country primarily because of job changes and changes in the economy,” Rowell said.

Graeme Slaven has a type of visa called an H-1B. Eighty-five thousand of them are allotted every year to professional workers through quotas to different countries.

Immigration attorney Ken Harder said once a foreign worker is laid off, they have few legal options.

“Much like Capt. Kirk might be beamed up by Scotty, in theory, when an H-1B worker is terminated from employment, he should vaporize and disappear,” Harder said.

Harder’s firm has seen the impact of low oil and gas prices directly.

“I would say since 8 a.m. on January 4th, the first business day this year, we’ve been furiously busy dealing with inquiries both from companies that need to downsize, as well as individuals who have been or are about to be downsized, so it’s been a real profound issue given the local economy here in Houston these last few months,” Harder said.

Slaven has a slim margin of hope. If he can find another employer willing to sponsor him, he can stay — but he knows that’s unlikely.

“The best-case scenario is a miracle,” Slaven said, “that somebody else is interested in employing me. The chances of that at this point in time are slim.”

A quick search on a job board turns up just a few companies willing to sponsor H-1B visas. Most of those companies are in IT, which is not a field Slaven has experience in.

Right now he’s trying to figure out a way to stay in the U.S. until the end of the school year, before he moves his family back to Scotland — a move he’s trying desperately to avoid.

For Entrepreneurs, Pitching To Pint-Sized Sharks Is No Child’s Play

Check out the full story on NPR.img_0427edit_custom-c7ecf8aeb9159a2338e4bf4ad625483219f1971d-s800-c85

A few weekends ago, Texas entrepreneur Regina Vatterott stood in front of 50 people on the top floor of a startup hub in Austin. She was there to pitch her smart pill box company, EllieGrid, to a panel of six judges.

“If you or your dad or mom has to take medications at breakfast, at breakfast time, the three compartments light up, and you would take, let’s say, two from this compartment, three from this compartment and one from this compartment, and it also sends you notifications on your smartphone so you can track it all online, too,” Vatterott told the judges.

It was like Shark Tank — the reality television show where entrepreneurs take turns pitching their companies to a panel of investors — but with a twist.

This panel of “sharks” is made up of kids.

Welcome to Pitch-a-Kid, where kids and entrepreneurs can learn from each other.

Regina Votterott won over the Pitch-a-Kid judges with her idea for a smart pill box.


Unlike the entrepreneurs on Shark Tank, Vatterott’s goal isn’t to get investors — there’s no cash prize at Pitch-a-Kid.

Still, it’s hard fought: Each entrepreneur at the first Pitch-a-Kid event has 5 minutes to present and up to 8 minutes of questions from the judges. And the kids are asking some tough questions: How do you make money? How are people going to pay for it? Do you provide a warranty if it breaks?

The judges hear six more pitches, including a social media network for books and a subscription “sock of the month” company idea.

Anicia Moncivais, the judge coordinator, is a 12th-grader; the five other kids are third- through sixth-graders. They turn in their score sheets and then deliberate.

“The judges have spoken,” intones Piers Powell, one of the judges.

Mike Millard, a co-founder of Pitch-a-Kid, announces the winner: Regina Vatterott’s company EllieGrid, the smart pill box maker.

Vatterott says she was a little nervous before her pitch.

I didn’t know if they understood the grand scheme of how important medication adherence was, but they really seemed to get it, they didn’t even ask questions about that,” she says.

Audrey Millard, daughter of Mike Millard, Pitch-a-Kid judge and co-founder, says she definitely held back.

“My dad was telling me in the car, like, how nervous these people were, and how they’re, like, I don’t know how to explain this in a kid-friendly language, oh no what will I do if they don’t understand me, and stuff like that, so I decided not to go too hard on them,” the 9-year-old says.

“About a year ago, I was doing a website with my daughter, and she asked me really tough questions,” Millard recalls. “She said, who’s the website for, how are they going to know about it, and what I realized was that they were nonfiltered, honest questions on how to be successful.”

In other words: If you can’t explain it to a kid, you probably aren’t ready to talk to investors. And just because the judges are small doesn’t mean they don’t take their job seriously — including what they were going to wear.

Before the event, Audrey says, she researched how to look “businesslike.”

The kids in the panel and in the audience got an introduction to the startup culture, and the entrepreneurs practiced addressing some of the issues they need to think through for their business model to succeed.

The next Pitch-a-Kid event in Austin is scheduled for July 30.

West, Texas Reacts to Shocking News

Get the story on KERA.

The people of West had spent three years coming to grips with the fertilizer plant blast that killed 15 and leveled part of the small Texas town. Then came Wednesday, when Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives special agent Robert Elder said the agency is investigating the incident as a crime.


Why This Small Coffee Business Doesn’t Need to Compete on Price


Every coffee company has an angle.

Folgers made it fast. Nabob made it romantic. Starbucks made it hip. And today, artisanal coffee is making it expensive. But how do you convince someone to pay a lot more for their coffee? The answer is actually pretty simple: all you need to do is tell a story.

We sat down with Helen Schafer, owner of Tiny House Coffee Roasters, to find out more.

In this interview, you’ll…

  • Find out how a great story can help you charge more for your products
  • Discover an easy way to tell your story (without an advertising budget)
  • Learn about product positioning and why it’s your key to boosting sales

Check out the full interview below:

Want to hear more? Listen to the rest of episode six now.

Stem Cell Therapy For Pets

Get the full story on PRX

Scientists discovered how to extract stem cells from human embryos in the early 2000s. Stem cell research got many people excited but there was a lot of controversy and suspicion surrounding this breakthrough. We haven’t heard much about stem cell research since then, but there are some medical professionals are using the technology: veterinarians.

More than 12,000 animals have been treated with stem cell therapy in the U.S. since 2004. The trend started with racehorses but is now available to domestic animals.

The industry is worth $20 million a year – that’s small compared to the $2 billion dollars Americans spent on pharmaceutical drugs for their pets in 2014. But the industry is expanding fast. There are three companies offering stem cell therapy for pets. A new facility opened in New York in August.

Tony Yuan owns a company called Mobile Stem Care in San Antonio. He says business is good because a lot of people are willing to spend serious money on their pets.

Roger Burton is one of his customers. A long-time hunter, Burton noticed that his Lewellin Setter, Reece, was limping out on the fields. He had never really thought about stem cell therapy for animals, but his doctor convinced him that the risks were minimal.

Burton was impressed with the results of the treatment. “Since the next day I have not seen her struggle at all, this is one happy dog,” Burton says. “She was on two forms of pain reliever, we just took her off of it and all I saw was progress.”

Burton paid upwards of a thousand dollars for the treatment. “I haven’t run across a situation yet where I haven’t done a procedure because of cost,” Burton says. HIs veterinarian, doctor Rachel Smith says she’s never seen patients so willing to spend money on their pets – just think of memory foam dog bed and pet health insurance.

Tony Yuan says that sentiment translates into medical procedures, so the margins for animal stem cell therapy are good. He says it would take him about $20 to bring stem cell therapy to humans.

Doug Frantz teaches bio-medical engineering at the University of Texas San Antonio. He says it will probably be another 10 years before humans can be treated with this type of therapy – and that’s a good thing.

“There’s a lot of regulations when you’re making that jump from veterinary medicine to medicine for humans,” Frantz says, “You really don’t have to have that regulation for animals because the FDA is not really interested in regulating those to that level.”

For the FDA to approve a drug or medical procedure for humans, it has to be better than the existing gold standard. For animals, the procedure has to just be proven safe. Scientists around the world are running hundreds of clinical trials proving the effectiveness of stem cell therapy in humans – and that is going to take a while.

That doesn’t stop people like Roger Burton from daydreaming about getting the same procedure as his dog. “I have a torn meniscus in one of my knees and I would love to have it done today,” Burton says.

But that’s not going to happen anytime soon without FDA approval.


Squirrels are the Biggest Cyber Hackers

Get the full story on KUT

You might have heard warnings about the potential for malicious computer hackers to sabotage infrastructure like electric utilities.

Turns out, there may be a bigger threat: squirrels.

Thanks to pop culture and politics, one might suspect the threat of hackers taking down our power grid is all but imminent. President Obama has addressed the issue extensively, and National Geographic even dedicated a feature-length movie to the possibility – the much-tweeted about 2013 movie “American Blackout.” But, the next time you see or hear somebody freaking out about hackers, maybe you should bring up squirrels.

In Austin and elsewhere, acorn-packing squirrels have a higher chance of creating a serious power outage than a malware-peddling malcontent.

If a squirrel runs across two different power lines at the same time or touches both a power line and a tree, not only is the poor little squirrel toast, there’s a good chance that the power line is as well.

Carlos Cordova, a spokesperson for Austin Energy, says squirrels accounted for or contributed to roughly 400 power outages in Austin last year – a span of time in which hackers caused zero global power outages.

The proliferation of squirrel-related outages has even inspired a data journalist to tabulate the phenomenon.

The anonymous observer known as “Cyber Squirrel 1” runs a website and a Twitter account that documents outages accredited to squirrels and other critters. He’s taken on the persona of the chief propaganda minister of the squirrel army. They’ve had 702 successful power outage operations worldwide. The interactive map is a silly way to transmit a serious message.

“There is some risk to the electric grid from cyber attack, of course, there is a small amount of risk there,” he says. “But the amount of hype and fear and uncertainty and doubt that is surrounding that risk is way out of proportion to the actual risk.”

Cordova says he’s constantly thinking about threats to the power grid. “There’s animals on the power lines like squirrels that can cause problems, and then there’s humans sitting in their rooms in their pajamas in cyber space going through our lines over the web that can also create problems,” he says. “We diligently protect against both.”

Cyber Squirrel 1 says that’s a good thing. But, just like Y2K or any other existential threat associated with technology, the doomsday rhetoric can get a little conflated sometimes.

In Sync: Is Sharing Your Online Calendar A Relationship Milestone?

Get the full story on NPR.


People in love have always savored their relationship milestones: the first date, the first I-love-you’s, meeting each other’s families.

Modern relationships come with their own special milestones, like swapping Wi-Fi passwords, becoming Facebook official, taking down your online dating profiles, and increasingly often, choosing to share your online calendar.

These days, more couples are discussing whether to make their online calendarsvisible to each other. It was even a plot point in the pilot episode of Jane the Virgin. The upside to being calendar connected: You can avoid pesky scheduling conflicts. The downside: It can feel kind of intrusive and kind of unromantic.

How Many People Are Calendar Connected?

A 2014 Pew Research Center study found that 11 percent of couples share an online calendar. That’s not an accurate measure of what we’re calling calendar connectivity. The difference in the language is small, but significant. Making your online calendar visible to your partner is not the same thing as having one online calendar that both of you share

The study also found that 27 percent of committed couples share an email address. “Older adults and those who have been in their relationship for longer than ten years are especially likely to share an email account,” Pew said.

Among younger couples, anecdotally it seems to be much more common to sync your separate online calendars than to share the same email address. If you’re under 40 and have the same email address as your partner, you’re a freak. You know that.

To get a better idea of how many couples are calendar connected, I tapped into my own social networks to do an informal survey. It was anecdotal, completely unscientific and highly informative.

So far, around half of all couples surveyed (about 30 people answered, all under 40) said they share their online calendars with each other. Fifteen percent of the respondents said they aren’t currently calendar connected, but wouldn’t mind if their partner asked. A quarter of the people I asked think sharing your online calendar with your partner is really weird.

Conflict Resolver Or Romance Killer?

From a technical standpoint, it’s very easy to make your calendar visible to your loved ones. But psychologically speaking, figuring out whether you want to share that much information can be a complex decision.

A Pew survey found that 11 percent of couples share an online calendar and more than one out of four couples share an email address.

Brenda Salinas for NPR

Do you really want to know where your partner is at all times? Do you want them knowing where you are?

In the informal survey, some respondents said that being calendar-connected helps keep the peace. “It worked for me and my fiancé,” Krystina Martinez of Denton, Texas, replied. “When we began dating, our schedules were all over the place, so it helped us find the time to see each other.”

New York city resident Aurora Almendral and her partner have even managed to find a little romance in syncing their calendars. “The calendar is another layer of connection we have during the day. We often put flirtatious ‘appointments’ there for the other to find,” Almendral says.

But for a lot of couples, sharing calendars feels a little strange. “I find that a little too stalker-ish for my tastes,” Allyson Michele of Santa Fe, N.M., says. “I get it if there’s an important appointment or event you both need to go to, but I don’t understand why anyone would need to link calendars at all times.”

Sara Paul of Austin, Texas, says “it can definitely lead to snooping if one or both of the partners in the relationship are the jealous type.”

A few passionate respondents were firmly against calendar connectivity. “Adults should be able to function without knowing where the other one is every second of the day,” says Paige Suffel of Houston. “If he wants to know what I’m doing, he can ask.”

A Warning From An Expert

Syndicated advice columnist Dan Savage is in the camp strongly against calendar connectivity. “Maintaining some distance — maintaining some degree of mystery and autonomy — is key to sustaining a romantic and sexual attraction over the long haul,” he says. Syncing up your online calendars is counterproductive to that goal, he says, “unless you’re not interested in long hauling the person you’re currently seeing, in which case, merge those calendars.”

For some couples, a shared calendar is just a jumping-off point. There are dozens of mobile apps designed to keep couples organized. The apps have different features centered around a shared calendar but also include to-do lists, grocery lists, digital scrapbooks, conflict resolution tips and GPS trackers. And for couples that are no longer couples, there are calendar apps to help sort out custody agreements.

A New Milestone

Is syncing calendars the new Facebook official? A quarter of the respondents to the informal survey said they consider sharing their calendar a relationship milestone.

“I think it’s a great idea, but only for couples who have been together for a substantial amount of time (whatever they consider that to be),” Katherine Briggs of Los Angeles says. “My partner and I have been going on for seven years, we both have hectic schedules, and we’re happily (almost) living/breathing extensions of each other.”

Michael Spitzer-Rubenstein started sharing his calendar with his girlfriend after she forgot that his parents were coming into town one weekend. Even though the Brooklyn resident sees being calendar connected “mainly as an utilitarian thing,” there is the occasional head-scratcher. “There are sometimes events on the calendar where I don’t know what it refers to because I’m not the only one adding events to my calendar,” he says.

Spitzer-Rubenstein says in 2016, being calendar-connected is a milestone. “In my relationship, it came after we were already engaged and it just made things easier.”