Seven Questions for . . . Talia Milgrom-Elcott

One of my favorite things about running The Picture Book Club has been the people it has led me to. Some are old friends who have offered new mentorship and support, some are fellow book people or entrepreneurs whom I've met through my work, and others are visionaries who inspire me from afar. I'm thrilled to introduce a few of them here.

-YiLing Chen-Josephson, Founder, The Picture Book Club

Q: What do you do?

I lead 100kin10, a national network committed to solving one of our country’s most pressing challenges: giving kids a great STEM (or science, tech, engineering, and math) education– by adding 100,000 more, excellent STEM teachers to America’s classrooms by 2021. More than just a coalition, we work to enlist a mix of diverse and powerful organizations to make strong commitments; we then amplify their impact through collaboration, learning, and funding; and then we catalyze solutions to large-scale problems by leveraging the strength of the network and its resources.

Q: What’s your favorite thing about doing what you do?

I get to work with amazing organizations across all different sectors, from non-profits to schools to universities, corporations, government agencies and foundations, every one of whom wants to help make sure that all students get great STEM teachers. They’re doing that because almost all the world's most pressing problems require STEM-based solutions, yet only a tiny fraction of our population has the STEM knowledge to even be at the table solving them. So it's no surprise we haven't solved these challenges yet. To solve them, we need all of tomorrow’s problem-solvers to be equipped with STEM skills and inspiration. And tomorrow’s problem-solvers need excellent STEM teachers today to guide them. And that’s where 100Kin10 and its 280 partners come in.

Q: What's something you find challenging about what you do?

We’ve been working toward this goal since the President issued a call for adding 100,000 excellent STEM teachers to our nation’s schools over the coming decade in his State of the Union in 2011.  By mid-2013, we realized that our approach — getting strong organizations to make strong commitments and supporting them with a suite of innovative opportunities to collaborate, learn, and access resources — was insufficient. Major challenges remained unaddressed, many simply too big for any one organization to solve on its own. To tackle those system-level challenges, we began to experiment with models to catalyze collective action to address large-scale shared challenges. At the same time, we realized that we needed to identify and map these big, systemic challenges in order to deliberately and strategically address them. Working with partners, teachers, and other sector leaders, we’ve been "mapping the waterfront" to identify these grand challenges. The hope is that we – and our 280 partners -- can be more deliberate and strategic about how to overcome the barriers that stand in the way of meeting our ten year goal, so that when we reach it, we won't have to start the clock all over again.  But shifting our work from the critical efforts to enlist, prepare, and support STEM teachers to getting underneath the big, system-level challenges that have made something as basic as getting great teachers into all classrooms so hard in this country is really hard.  It’s like asking ER doctors to move from the critical, life-saving work of treating the patients in front of them, to going up not just one level (diagnosing the underlying issues) but two levels (understanding why so many patients are coming in with the same underlying affliction).

Talia Milgrom-Elcott of 100kin10


Q: What is something you’re proud of?

Launching and leading a high-performing social-change effort while giving birth to and raising three little kids and nourishing a strong relationship with my husband (i.e. mostly having a sense of equanimity and balance; underscore mostly).

Q: Who is someone who inspires you that you know personally?

I’m inspired by my grandmother.  She is 95.  She and my grandfather have been married for 73 years.  They’ve lived in the same house since the early 1950s.  She came to this country as a refugee from Germany just before World War II broke out, having saved her family from the Nazis.  She met my grandfather at a USO dance, she a recent escapee from Nazi Germany; my grandfather working on radar, classified.  In quick succession, they danced, fell in love, my grandfather got his deployment papers, my grandmother followed him to his base in CA, they got married, she got pregnant, and he shipped out on a boat to the Pacific. She is whip smart but worked in a hair and nail salon to support her family, raised three children, became an amazing educator and artist, and eventually traveled the world with my grandfather, bringing us dolls, toy hats, and instruments from far-flung countries.  In the last year, she’s begun to lose her memory to dementia, but much of what is left is love.  I call her every Friday with my husband and three daughters and we sing to her, a song we sang to her mother, my great-grandmother, when I was growing up.  We sing that she is a woman of valor.  And she sings along.

Q: Who is someone who inspires you that you've never met?

I am one of those people who is inspired and moved by all kinds of people, so this is a hard question for me.  I’m inspired by the Pope, who has put justice and generosity at the center of an international conversation.  I am inspired by the courage and fundamental optimism of the Black Lives Matter movement – that if we protest and take action, our country can get better.  I am inspired by the glass-ceiling shattering of Hillary Clinton.  There are more, but I’ll stop here.

Q: What’s a picture book you remember as a favorite from your childhood?

There was this series called Barba’Abba (in Hebrew) that my parents read to us that I adored.  It turns out it’s French originally and has been translated into dozens of languages.  They’re about this happy family of shape-shifting creatures, each one of whom has a special love (music, art, books, sports, science, etc.).  They’re amazing.

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The Picture Book Club will make a donation to Luria Academy, the charity chosen by Talia, for every purchaser who mentions this Q+A.