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Inspirational Women in STEM and Tech: Ciara James of Limitless Learning TT On The 5 Leadership Lessons She Learned From Her Experience

Candice Georgiadis

12 Nov 2022

The right attitude is key. As a leader you will be faced with many challenging obstacles and how you choose to face them makes all the difference. A leader who is confident, determined and optimistic will always be more successful than one who is fearful, hesitant and defeatist.

The right attitude is key. As a leader you will be faced with many challenging obstacles and how you choose to face them makes all the difference. A leader who is confident, determined and optimistic will always be more successful than one who is fearful, hesitant and defeatist.

Asa part of our series about “Lessons From Inspirational Women in STEM and Tech”, we had the pleasure of interviewing Ciara James. Founder & CEO- Limitless Learning TT.Ciara James earned her B.S. in Mathematics from Morgan State University, M.S. in Applied Financial Mathematics from the University of Connecticut and has over 15 years’ experience in teaching, strategic learning methods, and educational development. Currently through her company, she focuses on connecting with students individually and custom-tailoring their lesson plans to ensure that each one receives the desired attention as well as a thorough understanding of the material in a way that works best for them. Her ultimate goal is to shake things up within the education system, particularly in the Caribbean, by shifting the focus from examination to student, where it isn’t the test results that matter as much as it is ensuring that each student leaves school with sound knowledge, firm grasp and full understanding, which will inevitably set them up for success in any career they decide to pursue.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

In the beginning I thought I was going to be an actuary, making lots of money and living my very best life. Then that changed into pursuing applied financial mathematics, with the intent of exploring the financial services sector. While I did work in investments for a little over a year and was good at my job, I just was not as passionate as my co-workers. I thought a change in department to risk analysis would be just what I needed, but ended up turning down that job offer and starting my own business in education. Both my parents are educators and I was always told by many of my professors that I would be an excellent educator and honestly, they were right.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?

In June 2019 I decided that I wanted to have a “summer” camp for science, math and art in July 2019. There wasn’t much time for preparation and advertising, literally 4–6 weeks to bring this idea to fruition. Many thought that I was crazy, biting off more than I could chew, and postponing to the following year would be wise. However, I had a vision of what I wanted and it entailed having that camp in July 2019. I must admit that 2 weeks before the start date, I was a bit nervous because no one had signed up for this camp. On the first day of camp, July 15th 2019, we were at capacity and couldn’t take any more students for Camp SMArt. To date, it has been one of the most successful events created by Limitless Learning TT. Had I not followed my intuition and postponed to the following year, the camp would have never happened because of COVID-19.

It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

When I was starting up my business I didn’t really have a lot of money. I needed a logo but quite honestly I really didn’t want to pay a lot but also wanted it immediately. An acquaintance offered to design a logo for a minimal fee with a really quick turn over. Let’s just say you get what you pay for. I learnt very quickly that you can never go wrong investing in quality service, especially when it comes to your brand.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

What makes Limitless Learning TT different from other companies is that we are extremely student-focused. Every student has a different personality and a different learning style. We tap into that by not only providing one on tutoring with individual attention, but also tailoring our lesson plans and going at the student’s desired pace. This results in each student learning in the way that works best for him/her.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

Yes! We are in the process of creating a remedial math program specifically geared towards students who reside in the Caribbean. Math is the subject with the highest failure rate in the Caribbean, at both the primary and secondary levels. This program will allow students to work at their own pace to correct foundational issues in mathematics, while ensuring that by the end of the program they have a thorough understanding of the topics and concepts covered.

Ok super. Thank you for all that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. Are you currently satisfied with the status quo regarding women in STEM? What specific changes do you think are needed to change the status quo?

While we have made a lot of progress within the last couple of decades, there is still a lot that needs to be done when it comes to the status quo regarding women in STEM. While more of an effort is being made to make young women aware of and excited about careers within the STEM field, when they’re actually in field many of the senior roles are still “reserved” for men. It is much more difficult for women to be promoted to senior level opportunities than their male counterparts. In my opinion the only way to combat this is through reprogramming at the primary level, where the result is that men are no longer regarded as the ONLY experts in this field.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women in STEM or Tech that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts? What would you suggest to address this?

I feel like women have to work twice as hard as men to be seriously considered as an expert in their field. Even with letters like MS or PhD attached to their name, there is always this need to prove to everyone, especially their male counterparts, that they have rightfully earned their place and are worthy. Nothing can change without acknowledgment. The first step is acknowledging that this is a serious problem before methods can be put in place to find a solution.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a woman in STEM or Tech. Can you explain what you mean?

One very important myth I’d like to dispel is that women in STEM aren’t still dealing with the unfairness of the gender pay gap. It very much exists! It is very frustrating and quite frankly an insult to have the same qualifications and experience, sometimes more than male co-workers, and still get paid less.

What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience as a Woman in STEM or Tech” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

My five leadership lessons are:

The right attitude is key. As a leader you will be faced with many challenging obstacles and how you choose to face them makes all the difference. A leader who is confident, determined and optimistic will always be more successful than one who is fearful, hesitant and defeatist.

Talk less and listen more. While it is important to voice your opinions, as a leader it is also important to hear the concerns and opinions of your team and take this into consideration when making decisions, especially ones that affects your team. This is what builds trust and respect, which in turn creates success.Own your mistakes. No one is perfect; everyone makes mistakes. What is important is admitting when you’ve made one, taking the necessary steps to correct it, learning from it, and ensuring that it isn’t repeated in the future.Be a role model. The fact is that many young women dream of being in a position of leadership within the STEM field. Be an exceptional example and show that anything is possible.Never give up!What advice would you give to other women leaders to help their team to thrive?Get to know your team on an personal level. Everyone has different personalities, brings different strengths and unique aspects to the team. As a leader you need to be able to pinpoint different strengths so that together the team can work in a way that is most effective and cohesive.What advice would you give to other women leaders about the best way to manage a large team?Delegate and communicate! When dealing with a large team it is impossible to do everything on your own. Delegating will not only create more time for you as a leader to work on important tasks, but will also give teammates more independence, experience and opportunities for growth. Also, communication is key. Effective communication between a leader and the team ensures that everyone knows what they’re doing, how they’re doing it, what to do if they encounter any obstacles, and the best solutions to problems, all of which result in success.None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?I would not where I am today without my sister Dana, who is my role model and the biggest supporter of my business. She has been there from inception, for every new idea or project, whether crazy or sane, and isn’t afraid to let me know how she honestly feels about a situation or decision. Not only has she invested in my business but she has invested in me and my purpose. Her unrelenting love and support is one of my driving factors to be the best at what I do.How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?There are many students locally and regionally who can benefit from one on one assistance in Math but simply cannot afford to do so. In 2019, I successfully created a local community initiative to help alleviate this problem. While it is just a small step, the hope is that it can continue to grow into something epic.You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)If I could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to people it would be the mutual respect movement. I think it’s extremely important to be able to accept someone for who they are, even if they might be different from you or even if you may not agree with their beliefs or lifestyle, and vice versa. I feel as though that would solve a lot of problems in the world right now.Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?My favourite life lesson is a version of Maya Angelo’s words “hoping for the best, prepared for the worst, and unsurprised by anything in between.” Prepared should be my middle name because I am someone who always has multiple back-up plans for my back-up plans. Honestly, it would be really nice if plan A always works and I am hopeful that it does, but I also understand that it’s not realistic. Thankfully, because I always have so many back-up plans there is rarely any circumstance that I’m not ready for or that surprises me.We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them :-)As a mathematician and educator, I would love to sit down with Gloria Conyers Hewitt, the first African American woman to chair a department of Mathematics in the US. She is such an influential woman in the STEM field and being able to pick her brain would be an exciting and unforgettable experience.Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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