A crowd estimated at about 350 by the Gilmer Area Chamber of Commerce attended the annual luncheon at the Gilmer High School gymnasium.
Mrs. Ham, a 1986 Gilmer High School graduate and daughter of Roy and Linda Helpenstill, now lives in Austin and is a sales director for the Microsoft US South Central Education team. According to the luncheon program, the team’s mission is helping “educators and school leaders connect, collaborate, create, and share so that students can realize their greatest potential.”
The program added that “Education is Microsoft’s largest vertical business in the world, serving over 85 million students, teachers and faculty across (grades) K-12 and Higher Education.”
Mrs. Ham, who has been with the giant computer firm Microsoft for 14 years, said it works with officials on policy issues affecting education.
She noted that the United States is ranked below several other nations in various types of education (including 54th in higher education), and said that if the U.S. could cut the high school dropout rate for the Class of 2016 in half, that would create $7.6 billion in additional earnings.
Explaining Microsoft’s role in working to improve this situation, Mrs. Ham said that about five years ago, the corporation began a program called “Shape The Future,” in which it helps make personal computers available to students at discounted prices. She cited the importance of “training kids on technology so they can have a brighter future” and be “more likely to stay in school.”
She asked how society needs to change learning in the 21st century, noting America was once a manufacturing society, “but that’s not where our world is going today.” Instead, she said, this is an “information society” featuring services and data, and skills for tomorrow’s workforce will include global awareness and communication.
Thus, skills that children need to learn have changed, Mrs. Ham said, and today, “Kids have to think creatively. . . solve problems.”
“I get to travel around the country and visit lots of schools,” the speaker said, noting there is now a situation called a “flip classroom” with a “boardroom style” atmosphere. There, she said, the teacher is more like a “coach” to students who are working together.
She also discussed specific computer-related programs’ role in education. For example, she said, Microsoft now offers an Internet search engine called “Bing” which meets the law on what students shouldn’t have access to at school, and “the big key is that it’s ad-free.”
“Kids love gaming and if you can kind of adapt that to the learning world, you catch their attention. . .,” Mrs. Ham added.
She said her firm also offers programs for teachers that would, for one example, allow an instructor doing a project on India to contact a teacher in that nation.
Because of a lack of people entering the teaching field, Microsoft is also working with the federal government on a website called www.teach.org. It will allow schools to post job openings.
She said her employer also has programs featuring contests for children, which could deal with such hypothetical topics as how to keep Gilmer streets clean. She also said Microsoft engineers will help train students in computer technology.