Flying slippers blog

Humans of the Science Center: Adam Durant

April 30, 2020

Educator. Musician. Businessman. Author. Mentor. These are some of the words you could use to describe Adam Durant, Program Manager for our STEM education initiative, FirstHand. His background in education and business fits perfectly within a versatile team that year after year, finds new and creative ways to keep Philadelphia’s high school and middle school students engaged in out-of-school learning.

 

And even though current times have reshaped our understanding of the traditional classroom- at least in the short term -he continues to invest in the students’ futures much like he invests in they city he is so closely tied to. Read on to find out what keeps Adam busy in and out of the lab, and the biggest personal rewards he’s experienced while opening doors for the minds of tomorrow.

How has your past experience as a teacher prepared you for your role and what was most surprising to you?

My experience as a teacher in the School District of Philadelphia was transformative for me and my career path. In those six years, my experience teaching both the middle and high school students helped me grow greatly as a professional. My time in the classroom nurtured my leadership skills and the ability to manage interpersonal relationships.  One of the main reasons why I applied to the Science Center, was that I was confident that my skills and expertise in the classroom would translate well into the FirstHand lab. We pride ourselves on being “not school” at FirstHand, but in order to run a successful out of school time program it is important for our team to have those attributes that make the most successful teachers thrive.

 

One thing that was surprising or took some adjustment was having no summer break (laughs). The school year is a marathon that really takes a toll on you. You earn and deserve that time off. With that being said, I’ll happily trade summers off as a teacher for a full year as Program Manager of FirstHand any day.

FirstHand has made a shift to include more industry-focused curricula in the past year. How has this change affected the students, and have you noticed any differences in how they are responding to the classes?

Keeping our curricula industry focused is what keeps our students engaged in our programming at a high level. Most of our students are scholars who already take the additional steps to be engaged in extra curriculars like other out of school time programs, sports, test prep, etc. They come to FirstHand to experience something different than what is already offered. Knowing that, it is a mission of mine to expose them to 21st century careers and the modern workplace. 

You helped launch FirstHand’s curriculum from exclusively middle school students to high school students. How are the lessons different?

There are a few main differences between the two levels. The biggest distinction for high school is that our curriculum changes based on our mentor partner for the semester. We like to look at high school like a “workplace simulation”. Students work with a mentor partner who plays a dual role as a mentor and expert in their field. After a few work sessions, the mentors present the challenge to the students and essentially become the client. 

 

To successfully complete the challenge, the students work in teams and check in with their mentors to receive feedback on their projects. Our students are also awarded stipends as they achieve program milestones.

 

Last Spring, we worked with SEER Interactive where the students learned the basics of digital marketing and advertising. This past semester we worked with Crown Castle which focused on communication infrastructure and 5G technology.

You are part of a pretty dynamic team. How do you think you all benefit from each other’s personalities and experiences?

I love my team. I really see us a perfect match of different skills, backgrounds, and interests that combine to form the dynamic team you see today. We all bring unique talents to the table and share the same goal of providing the best program possible. Our collective goal is for FirstHand to be a leader in effective out of school programming and to help cultivate the future workforce.

 

The key to pulling off a great team dynamic is to make sure that everyone is respected, and they feel empowered to bring new ideas to the table. We meet often as a team to talk and brainstorm. This can only be effective in an environment in which everyone feels like their voice is heard.

What is the most rewarding part of your work with FirstHand?

The most rewarding part is seeing how much each cohort grows and buys into the program over a school year. Most of our students come into FirstHand not knowing what to expect, but over the next 6 months they become very comfortable with things that may have been foreign to them a short time ago.

 

Highlights include seeing the students come in to 3675 and greet James, seeing the relationships they build with their mentors, and the confidence they gain in presenting from our first and second project showcases.

You have worn several different hats at the Science Center (including DJ) how important is it to be versatile and multifaceted?

Working as an educator you learn that in order to be successful you must be able to be flexible and adapt to many situations. No two days, classes, or students are alike, so you have to become efficient in planning for different outcomes. My 10 years of experience in education has allowed me to practice these skills consistently and develop the “growth mindset” which has really enhanced my excitement and ability to take on new challenges and roles within my position.

 

As far as DJing, my undergrad degree is in music technology and communications, so music is a huge passion of mine that I try my best to nurture when I have the time.  

When you’re not opening doors for the minds of tomorrow, what do you like to do?

Current top priority is learning to be a new dad. My wife Kara and I have a 6-month-old son, Samuel who teaches us something new every day. If I’m not with the family, you can catch me listening to music and podcasts, and reading.
 

Over the past 18 months, I have been building my business as a real-estate investor which has become a strong interest and passion of mine. I can get pretty nerdy when it comes to finance, marketing, and investing.

 

I’m also a huge sports fan (basketball, football & soccer) and play in a few recreational leagues in Philly.

Finish this sentence: “As a curious kid I...”

Loved building model cars with my Dad. I also took apart some electronics I probably shouldn’t have.  

 

What’s your super-power?

My superpower is being balanced (work, life, etc.) Which is a LOT harder to do in our current state but I’m trying my best.

 

Learn more about and keep up with Adam on LinkedIn and Instagram

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