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The STEM Career lesson that matches this interview, “STEM Teacher,” can be found in our Intro to Computer Science Applications course. You can download a sample STEM Career lesson that matches this grade band for free. In “3D Printing Industry”, students explore roles within the industry and design & evaluate a product.
Name: Naseed Gifted
Title: Vice Principal, Founder
School/Company: Science Park High School, PBS Media
STEM Career Lesson: STEM Teacher
Course: Intro to Computer Science Applications
What if our favorite characters in movies or comics were ordinary people with extraordinary skills? Naseed Gifted is answering that question. Hear how Naseed empowers students to see themselves in STEM as an educator and founder of PBS Media, a company that celebrates Black characters and creatives.
Find Naseed, PBS Media, and KHEM FEST online:
Facebook: Naseed Gifted
PBS Media: https://pbsmediastudios.com/, @PBSmediaStudios
KHEM FEST: https://khemfest.com/, @khemfest
– [Katie] Think about all the superheroes and pop culture right now. Spider-Man, Batman, Wonder Woman, they all have extraordinary powers and abilities that make us want to follow their stories. But what of our favorite characters in movies, comics, toys, or games were just ordinary people? Today, you’ll hear my conversation with an incredible STEM teacher, entrepreneur, and creative, who is answering that question. Naseed Gifted has two jobs. He is vice principal at Science Park High School in New Jersey. He’s also the founder of PBS Media, an entertainment studio that celebrates Black animation, gaming, and comic books. Welcome to “My STEM Career,” inspiring the next generation of leaders. The show is brought to you by Codelicious Computer Science Curriculum. I’m Katie Baird. In this first section of the episode, we’re diving into questions from our STEM teacher STEM career lesson, from Intro to Computer Science Applications built for grade six. Then, we’ll transition and learn more about Naseed’s life, career and advice. Hi, Naseed. Thank you so much for coming on the show today.
– [Naseed] Thank you for having me. Thank you for having me. It’s an honor to be at this afternoon.
– [Katie] Absolutely. So, we’re just going to get started with some questions related to our STEM career lesson called, “STEM Teacher.” And this is in our Computer Science Applications course created for grade six to eight. So, I would love to get started with you just introducing yourself, what’s your name, what’s your job title, and where do you work.
– [Naseed] Okay, my name is Naseed Gifted. I am assistant principal at Science Park High School in Newark, New Jersey. That is my daytime job. Outside of that, I’m a engineer, creator, and writer of a Afro futurism series called P.B.Soldier. Also the founder of New Jersey’s only black comic book and black animation film festival called KHEM FEST.
– [Katie] Great. And I’m excited to get into all of those job titles later. But for this part one, we’re just focusing on your role as a STEM teacher. So, I’d love to dig into that a little bit more. In your opinion, how has STEM different from other academic subjects?
– [Naseed] I mean, well, STEM, when we talk about creativity, we talk about problem solving. I mean I always, I studied the discipline of engineering and engineers are what we call problem solvers and problem solvers in various disciplines. So, being a STEM teacher or coming out as a STEM teacher, I always look to inspire the next generation of technology leaders. And that’s always been my focus. That’s been my own personal mission. So everything that I’ve touched has that focus in mind that that’s been something that I’ve been doing for the last 20 years. And transitioning from engineering and coming into education, I saw that there was a lack of opportunities for a Black and Brown children. And wanted to expose them to the various opportunities through robotics, through animation, through game design, and all the other platforms that they’re interested in. To be able to convert those into opportunities for them to be able to change their livelihood and change possibly the community around them.
– [Katie] Absolutely. So in your experience, how has STEM education changed over the course of your career?
– [Naseed] Well, I think when we talk about problem solvers from being working in team, teamwork, and everything, I think that hasn’t changed. But the focus of with regards to needing more computer programmers, needing more engineers, needing more individuals in the biomedical engineering fields, those industries have become much more popular since I was in school. But just the exposure and the knowledge, especially through the internet and various other medias, that being able to expose young people to these opportunities. Because in the urban environment, they have limited opportunities to even know an engineer, a doctor, or scientist, or anything that may live in their community. So being able to expose young people to those opportunities and then just having a knowledge base for that has been something that I look forward to each day, every day.
– [Katie] That’s actually a great transition into this next question, because like you said, part of STEM education is linking the learning experience as it you’re having in school to the real world. So just more specifically, what are some of your favorite ways to help your learners relate STEM to the world around them?
– [Naseed] Well, generally, when we do any STEM, we do project-based learning. And with that project-based learning, we look to solve a real world problem. And then being able to do that, they are coming up with solutions and going through the engineering design process to be able to do that. So design, tests, build, tests, modify. And then being that they’re going through that cycle understand that there is, they’re solving some type of problem and coming up with alternative solutions for that. What we do is definitely with project-based learning and real world experiences. So, that comes in a form of internship opportunities and externship opportunities. What we have been able to do to further the experience base for our young people is develop partnerships with industry. So within our Engineering Academy, we did partnerships with companies like Striker, of course, NJIT, which is New Jersey Institute of Technology. And then, other institutions like Apple and various other companies. To be able to develop… Oh, I forgot one major one, which is Picatinny Arsenal. To be able to show how the skills that they are learning within the classroom is gonna be applied in the real world.
– [Katie] And that’s so important ’cause I feel like some students feel like they need to wait until sort of a post-secondary experience to get that opportunity. And so, it’s really amazing that you’re offering them those different or giving them exposure to those different experiences in a K to 12 environment.
– [Naseed] We also build in our extracurricular activities to tie into those projects. So, we have a very valuable robotics team. And with the robotics team, they have an opportunity to get into the design, mechanical engineering aspect, and electrical aspect. And then, from the presentation standpoint and everything else.
– [Katie] What traits do you think a STEM teacher must have?
– [Naseed] Oh, traits. Well, a couple of traits that a STEM teacher must have I go into creativity. Being able to creatively design lessons. Being able to make those connections, adaptability. And then, just pretty much a knowledge base. If you are a STEM teacher and you’re coming straight through education, I would advise those individuals to connect with industry, find your friends, family members, or whoever are in industry and ask them what are they looking for as far as skill sets and everything. And then, bring that into the classroom that is so, so, so important. Even with the soft skills, as far as interviewing, communication, presentations, all of those things, I had to learn that some of it the hard way. But I had the opportunity through my senior project in college to be able to work on these skill sets. To be able to develop into someone that was really real. And I always think about, just even from an education, just understanding what UBD, understanding by design. So understanding what the end goal is. I’ve always used the shark tank model as my end goal for the young people in STEM classes to be able to develop an idea. And then, be able to present it to a panel of experts, to be able to see how that would fair. And then, the other connection that I also kinda tie in is for a product or service, because you wanna kind of pitch it as a product of service. How would you go about getting a patent for this? So even if you just filling out the application, not actually paying the fees, just kind of walking young people through the process so they can understand that this is what it takes for you to take an idea. Something that you conceive in your mind that you believe in your heart, that you achieve with your hands. So conceive, believe, achieve, and be able to come up with some very phenomenal ideas. Because the next generation is always developing and have the solutions to today’s world’s problems.
– [Katie] Definitely. Hi, it’s Katie Baird, host of “My STEM Career,” podcast. Our episode featuring Naseed Gifted is airing in September, 2022. So I wanted to let you know about a super exciting event coming up with Naseed and PBS Media. I’ll let Naseed take it from here.
– [Naseed] We have KHEM FEST this year. This is the eighth annual KHEM FEST. We want all of you to tune in. It’s gonna be happening September 23rd through September 25th in North New Jersey at the Haynes building. You could go to ww.khemfest.com. It’s www.khemfest.com. That’s K-H-E-M, F-E-S-T.com. Looking forward to seeing you there. Peace.
– [Katie] Those questions drew from our STEM teacher STEM career lesson, part of Codelicious Intro to Computer Science Applications for grade six. You can find more information about the course in the show notes. Now, onto the second part of our show. Join me as Naseed talks about the robotics tournament that set him on his career path, the programs he’s implemented to excite students about STEM, and his projects with PBS Media. And now, we’re going to move on to part two, which are just more specific questions about your career journey so far. So, I’d love to take it all the way back. And you mentioned in part one, you have a background in engineering. So, can you please share with us some of your formative experiences that inspired you to pursue that career path?
– [Naseed] Well, yes. So for me, growing up in Newark, New Jersey, not really knowing what I wanted to do. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be a fireman or whatever the case. And you’re limited to the opportunities that you were exposed to. So, I was one of 10 students who had one of the first opportunities to be a part of US First in my sophomore year high school. And I got the chance to work along at AT&T Bill labs in Whippany, New Jersey. And I got to work along an engineer who looked like me. At that point, I set myself on a journey to wanna become an engineer. And it was the fact that I could relate to the individual. He was an electrical engineer. That’s why I wanted to pursue electrical engineering. And that one robotics experience changed my trajectory for my entire life. It gave me focus. I knew what my purpose was at that point. And then, I know what I needed to go and do. Fast forward, I got accepted into New Jersey Institute of Technology, also get accepted into Georgia Tech. And Georgia Tech wasn’t offering me the money that NJIT was offering me, so I went with NJIT. And also, Georgia Tech wanted me to come in January. And I said there’s too many things going on around here for me not to, to have six months off and took a idle mind. So many things can happen in that. They call that what they say the devil’s playground with idle time. So, I went with NJIT and I don’t regret me taking advantage of that opportunity. Because of that one robotics experience, we had the opportunity to do a few things. We won the Chairman’s Award for that. Put New Jersey on the map. And because we won the Chairman’s Award, it’s like the NBA Championship or the Super Bowl. So, we got to go to the White House. We met the president. I was on 2020 USA in a minute. All of these different things, because of this one decision that I made that like I said, changed the trajectory of my entire life. And because of that, just to go into my career. So fast forward, I graduated from NJIT. I work at PSEG. I work at East Orange Water Commission as a CAD operator. And then 9/11 happens. And I was actually transitioning, because the industry was very hot at the moment. And the whole industry shrunk while I was traveling abroad. And from that point, I decided that I needed to do something while I was still looking for another opportunity. And I started substitute teaching. And when I started substitute teaching, I was in a math class for as a long-term sub. And those young people inspired me to be able to wanna become a teacher. So, I went from substitute teacher all the way up to principal. And here we are. That was my whole entire journey from engineering into education. And being able to have that real world experience, I was able to bring that into the classroom and make those projects that we were doing at work as a part of something that we would do in a classroom as well.
– [Katie] Yeah. And I feel like you just kind of touched on it there, but I’d love for you to expand on it. Having the experience all the way from substitute teaching all the way to becoming a principal, what are some of your main goals when you’re working with learners?
– [Naseed] Main goals, working with learners? I mean one of the main things is we wanna track progress. We wanna track growth. So, regardless of where you’re starting, because I know and I have tons of examples of this. I had a young man who was not a strong math student in the beginning. But it’s about work ethic and how much work you’re willing to put in. And he ends up running a tutoring center. He goes out and becomes an engineer and gets his first opportunity in Detroit, Michigan, where he’s working for Ford. I mean, yeah, he worked with Ford and I believe he’s worked for another car company as well. But the same young man who was in the classroom that you might write off and say, “Oh, he cannot be an engineer.” Once you start activating key things and then showing them a trajectory and a pathway, there’s no limit to what a young person can aspire to do. It was the same thing that activated me to once become an engineer. And then, later on become an educator and continue to push forward. It’s when people say that you can’t do something is what really pushed me to say that I really can do something and that’s always been my motivation.
– [Katie] Yeah, I love that example. What programs have you implemented in Newark public schools to help students advance their studies in STEM?
– [Naseed] Well, one was we developed a whole STEM academy. So we did develop a STEM Academy. One was Gerald Lawson’s video game at App Development Academy. We also had Madam C.J. Walker’s Natural Health and Beauty Science Academy And then, we had our Biomedical Engineering Academy where we backwards mapped the curriculum, where we would have cross curriculum instruction in our math, science, history, and ELA classes. And then also, even try to tie in health and physical education courses to that to be able to tie in and then see how this applies to everyday life. Anything that you could think of, touch, feel, taste, or whatever, some type of engineers, some type of STEM major has something to do with it. A lot of people think that STEM is so, so foreign. But just to connect it back to the history of mathematics and everything. One of the greatest structures that comes outta civilization, which was the pyramids, were designed by Imhotep. Imhotep was the first architect, first engineer, first scholar, first physician. But used this ingenuity, this applied mathematics and engineering skills to be able to develop the Pyramids of Egypt.
– [Katie] Absolutely.
– [Naseed] Still here today.
– [Katie] Yeah, and that just shows the power of exposure, right? That impact that can have on a student’s future or person’s future when they can see the different opportunities that are available to them at such a young age.
– [Naseed] Yes, definitely.
– [Katie] So I’d love to transition this conversation now and talk a little bit more about your other full-time role, which you’ve already mentioned at PBS Media.
– [Naseed] Yes.
– [Katie] So what was the inspiration behind PBS Media? And what projects have come out of that organization?
– [Naseed] Well, a couple of things have come out of the project. But the inspiration for it was the young people. I had an experience with my own child where we are an entertainment studio where we develop graphic novels like animation, and moving into game development. And we take characters who are not superheroes, but who have extraordinary skill sets and be able to use that to solve problems. So, we actually developed one of the first STEM comics with a protagonist of color. To be able to come out and do that had just been super, super phenomenal. But just to go back, the origins story for all of this was something that kind of rooted in college. I used to have a clothing line with this logo called P.B.Soldier. That was the logo. And we talked about kind of developing into a clothing line. I mean developing into a comic book series, but nothing really came out of it. I took my son to see “Incredible Hawk,” a number of years ago. And I had a conversation with him about heroes or superheroes. And when I talked to him and just to understand my background, he knows about Malcolm, Martin, Malcolm, Martin and Marcus. So Marcus Garvey, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King. He knows about . He knows about all of these different things. And when I had a conversation with him about superheroes, he could name the top five, the top 10, that everyone could probably name. That has Superman, Spider-man, all of those individuals. So, the thing that resonated with me was when he heard the word superhero, he couldn’t identify anyone who looked like him. And then, what that did was kind of send me on a journey. Initially, it got me upset because of our background and him knowing his history and everything. But then, I actually set out on the journey to do something about it. Because as you know, as adolescents, we learn through pictures and words generate images in our head. So PBS Media would be able to change the paradigm where we could always identify ourselves as the hero or unlock the hero within you. So, you can see yourself as the hero and not be able to see someone else as your hero or your savior.
– [Katie] For sure. And as you mentioned too, in P.B.Soldier, they don’t have, your characters, don’t have superpowers. But they have extraordinary skills that help them in whatever scenarios that they’re in. So, how do you use that series to spark an interest in STEM for young readers? So, what are some of these skills that are being discussed and used.
– [Naseed] One of the things, I mean just from education and as you would know, is one of the things that happens as you move up the ladder from secondary to post-secondary, even in middle school, is that the concepts become abstract. So initially, they start you off with pictures and you be able to develop mental models. So as things get more complex, you just pretty much go with the text versus being able to understand what the actual concept is. So, what we are doing is using graphic media to be able to apply to that visual learner. So, you could be able to see a more complex concept and be able to see a mental image that goes along with it, and be able to break down those concepts into something that you can understand. And that’s what we’ve been able to do with the graphic novel series, as well as our animation and comic festival as well.
– [Katie] So actually taking from that answer, I’d love to transition over and talk more about KHEM FEST, your annual convention. So first, can you tell us what that is?
– [Naseed] Well, KHEM FEST is a celebration of Black animation, game developers, and comic book creators. We’ve been doing this annual event for the last eight years. This will be the eighth annual that we’ve been doing. It started off at Central High School and have grown it each and every year to be able to connect with a STEM focus. So everything that I do have a STEM focus. To be able to inspire that next generation of you technology leaders. But be able to connect the now generation of creators to the next generation of creators. Because there are a number of STEM careers that are available to individuals who are interested in comic books, animation, and games. So instead of being the players of those, you can actually take on job opportunities to be able to create those and narrow plethora of STEM opportunities that are available for that. From game designers, from environment, from environment developers, artists, there is a ton of STEM opportunities that are available for young people.
– [Katie] Yeah, what’s your favorite experience or session that you’ve been able to provide at KHEM FEST?
– [Naseed] At KHEM FEST? Oh, wow. My favorite, I think the Animation Film Festival. We took, we took a niche and be able to see. ‘Cause the one thing that I’ve always been fascinated, the reason I even got into comics is to develop my own graphic novel series is because I wanted to do an animated series. That’s always been the goal, to develop the animated series. And we are that much closer to doing it. So to be able to, because the startup capital to be able to develop animated film is that much more, it was easier entry point to be able to develop the comic scenes. But to see what these producers or these creators have been able to put out, with some of barely no budget and some with million dollar budgets, just being able to see that and then be able to connect with young people to be able to see and inspire them to be able to want to create their own projects and everything. That’s been the thing that’s been very dear to my heart to be able to connect with those young people. And then be able to connect with the creators and have a sense of ownership and develop some sense of legacy. A lot of people don’t know Superman and Batman are 75 years old. And we are still seeing films, games, series about them. So to be able to create that next generation, that will actually last beyond the years of the creator. And that’s what this whole industry is allowing you to be able to do. I mean from a sense of ownership. And then, also just being able to create something that will create a legacy. Not only for yourself, but for your family as well.
– [Katie] Yes, definitely. So, I’d like to zoom out a little bit and talk a little bit more about your experience starting PBS Media. Because you started this entire entertainment studio with little to no experience. That’s a huge feat. What have you learned from that experience?
– [Naseed] Oh, man. Well first, as a coming from engineering and being a problem solver, some of the things I’ve learned is that we can overanalyze. But also applying some of the rules that happens in industry to product development. So, we all have smartphones, right? And I always use this analogy. We have smartphones and it does 99.9% of everything it says it’s supposed to do. But every few months, they send us what we call an update. And that’s the bugs that the consumer or the consumer who’s been using the product kind of work out. And then they see those bugs and then they kind of give you the update. So as a creator, sometimes we are stuck in the lab so often that we don’t put our product into the universe and then allow the people to be able to give us feedback, to be able to improve upon it. So, that was something that I had to learn. But the one thing I did do is receive the feedback and then use it to improve the product moving forward. So if you look at our storylines from episode one to episode two, there’s been improvement. From episode two to episode three, there’s been improvement. And that’s all based off of the feedback that we are getting. And now, we’re just doing graphic novels with regards to the series and just keep pushing forward. That was one of the biggest, biggest hurdles. But also, I don’t wanna say, I don’t want to take any credit away from the craft or the industry. I had to go, I went back to school. I took some courses at NYU on story board and comic book creation. So, I took a number of courses in that. I went to a number of conventions. I met with people and I just kept working on my craft. So for me to get to where I was, it took a lot of work to be professional at anything. They say it take 10,000 hours. So, I’ve constantly been churning, churning, and churning and working on that aspect of it. To be someone that is who got a little bit of stain, who’s been recognized in this industry coming from my background as I’m not an artist. I collaborate with artists, but I’m a writer and creator and I’m a visual artist. But I don’t do the illustrations that you see in the book.
– [Katie] Yeah, the thing about comics that I love is that it’s storytelling and visuals, but there’s no movement to help it out. So-
– [Naseed] That’s right.
– [Katie] It’s tough ’cause when you watch animated series, there’s motion that can help tell the story. But as you’re writing the story and working with an artist, you need to be able to collaborate together and make sure that you’re still able to deliver the story in the way that you see it playing out in your head, without that element of motion.
– [Naseed] Yeah. And the other piece too is the lettering and everything else. I mean just being able to take a picture. So, you gotta have a picture in your mind ’cause you wanna be able to catch the right angle. Most people when they take the selfies, they try to get that angle, trying to get that angle, right? That’s the same thing that you have to do in comics. So, you wanna be able to see that level of impact based on the image that you’re capturing and hopefully that be able to tell the story. So, you gotta be able to look at it both ways. From the illustration. Did the illustration tell the story without the words? And then, how are the words adding value to the story? And you gotta be able to look at both of those. And that is something through practice, through reading, through just being a part of a number of different projects and everything I had to learn. Like I said, I didn’t come in with the skill set. I actually I started off with making graphic novels for dummies or something like that. And then, just kept expanding and working with individuals who are in the industry, who mentored and tutored, and all of those things. Regardless of what industry that you’re going in, there’s always someone who’s doing what you’re doing. You always just add your own spin and your own flavor to it. That is something that I always seeing. Always try to find the top five in whatever industry that you’re doing and see what they did that made them successful and try to model that. And then, add your own flavor to it.
– [Katie] For sure. So, we’re kind of transitioning into the final two questions here. And the first one is kind of a big question. It’s what advice would you give to students who are wanting to follow in your career path?
– [Naseed] Oh, students, oh man. Don’t follow my career path. No, but anyone who wants to go into STEM, I’m gonna say do it. Don’t go with the safety net. Don’t go with odd. You have a dream, go out and get it. One of the things that happened to me was my goal was to become an engineering. That’s all I shot for. And when I became an engineer, that was pretty much it. And that’s how it was easier for me to kind of transition into education ’cause I needed a new challenge. But what I used that is a vehicle for and that experience is added to what I was doing in the education career. So I mean from being able to build a STEM Academy, to be able to we took a shipping container and build a disaster relief house. Like those little things like that. That’s only because I went into this field and became an engineer. And that was something that I did. And then, be able to use my creativity and partner up with individuals and everything, we were able to do much, much more than what I was set out to do.
– [Katie] And then, my final question here is if listeners are interested in finding out more about PBS Media and P.B.Soldier, would you mind throwing out some of your social media handles so that they can find those?
– [Naseed] If you’re looking to reach, my name is Naseed Gifted. For IG, I’m @directorgifted. On Facebook, I am Naseed Gifted. For PBS Media Studios or all social media, it’s PBS Media Studios. So it’s @PBSmediaStudios. That’s on all social media handles.
– [Katie] Great. And I can drop those all on the description box too for anyone listening. So, you can find ’em easily right below in the description. So thank you so much, Naseed, for coming on “My STEM Career,” today, I really appreciate your time and your insight.
– [Naseed] No, thank you for having me. This was a lot of fun. Hopefully, I get an opportunity to do something like this again.
– [Katie] Thank you, Naseed Gifted, vice principal at Science Park High School and founder of PBS Media, for coming on the show today. Listen to every episode of “My STEM Career,” at ellipsiseducation.com or wherever you get your podcast. See you soon.
Teachers and students: explore STEM careers and discover the ways computer science knowledge can help regardless of your path. In this show, we speak with industry experts that share information about their careers, describe their professional experiences, and offer advice to students. This show is hosted by Codelicious Computer Science Curriculum.