We Give Back: Connect In Place
Madeleine Singh leveraged the skills she learned in her UX internships to help bridge the digital divide.
When I started my summer UX internship at Vlocity, a Salesforce Company, I had already been home from college for two months. Instead of spending my weekdays on the 50th floor of the Salesforce Tower, I found myself attending Zoom call after Zoom call in my childhood bedroom, my “workspace” being a folding table with a tablecloth over it.
Despite the challenges that came with working from home, I constantly reminded myself how lucky I was to be working at all; thousands of students had their summer internships canceled as a result of the pandemic, and thousands more lacked the resources to work remotely. The latter is an example of the digital divide, the gulf between those who have ready access to computers and the Internet and those who do not.
Aware of these issues, I was drawn to a post on my Facebook feed seeking volunteer instructors for Connect-in-Place, a free virtual “summer camp” for middle and high schoolers. Founded by a group of UC Berkeley students, Connect-in-Place aims to cure isolation and boredom in the midst of COVID-19 while also lessening the digital divide; classes are free, but there is a suggested $10/week donation that goes towards buying laptops, hotspots, and other digital infrastructure for low-income students.
A few emails and one interview later, I officially became part of the Connect-in-Place teaching team. From cryptography to game theory and from screenwriting to Bollywood dance, Connect-in-Place offered over 200 diverse classes taught by 150 eager college students. I chose to teach an introductory class on my major, a subject that’s so new it hasn’t yet been integrated into K-12 education: user experience (UX) design.
While learning UX from my teammates at Vlocity, a Salesforce Company, I was simultaneously teaching it to a class of 16 high-schoolers. This summer was my first time working at a large company, and also my first time teaching; both came with a learning curve. My first week at Vlocity, a Salesforce Company, felt like I was drowning in information - passwords, Slack channels, calendar invites - and my first class went less-than-ideally, having horribly overestimated the length of my presentation and ending 40 minutes early.
Nonetheless, as with any new skill, I improved over time. For a month, I spent my days assembling wireframes and Sketch libraries, and my nights brainstorming lesson plans for our twice-weekly class meetings. Surprisingly, none of these things felt like “work” at all; I felt fortunate to be spending my summer doing something I’m passionate about, while also sharing this interest with those who may not have the same opportunities to learn about it.
I didn’t truly realize the effect I had until one of my students reached out via email and thanked me for teaching the course. She was an incoming senior in high school preparing to apply to college, and I inspired her to look into undergraduate UX programs. Seeing this impact was so gratifying that it motivated me to explore assistant teaching positions at my own school, the University of Michigan’s School of Information, for the semester after next.
To date, Connect-in-Place has raised over $15,000 in donations toward increasing the accessibility of online learning. In response to the program’s success, founders Danielle Egan and Saumya Goyal have tentative plans to continue classes into the upcoming school year.
I am proud to be part of an organization that provides education to so many - over 2,200 students enrolled in just two months, and hundreds more supported by donations - while also helping its instructors grow through teaching others.
To support Connect-in-Place and its mission to mitigate the digital divide, you can donate here.
Vlocity Value - We Give Back: Giving back is becoming increasingly important and is prioritized in the enterprise technology business community nowadays. Since the founding of the company, one of Vlocity’s core values has been “We Give Back.” This value aligns with those of Salesforce closely, particularly when it comes to Vlociters volunteering their time or corporate charitable donations in the health and human services arena. This post is one in a series of posts sharing stories of our employees, customers, and partners giving back in a wide variety of ways.