What does data have to do with dry-erase markers? Everything if you’re looking to help teachers stock their classrooms with supplies they actually need.
That's the goal of the SAS Data Drive – a school-supply donation drive with a special focus on data, undertaken for the second-consecutive year – conducted by SAS’ United in STEM summer interns. And in 2023, those interns were joined by SAS' SkillBridge Fellows, military members getting real-world job experience in their final 180 days of service as part of a US Department of Defense program.
The result was another impressive turnout of donations of precisely the types of supplies teachers are looking for. On top of that, SAS contributed a $15,000 grant to WakeEd Partnerships' Tools4Schools program, the beneficiary of the drive, for purchasing additional supplies.
"As a former educator, I know what it’s like to have to buy your own supplies and buy your student's supplies,” says Sheneika Simmons, program manager with WakeEd Partnership. “Knowing that teachers spend more than $500 out of pocket (each year) for their students to have a successful learning environment can be extremely frustrating. Tools4Schools is trying to mitigate that issue. It’s our job to support them and their efforts to educate our youth.”
This year, the drive yielded 3,800 items placed in bins around SAS headquarters, adding up to a total value of $7,000. An additional 13,000 units – worth $2,400 overall – were collected through the data drive's custom Amazon wish list. Between the drive and the grant, Tools4Schools got nearly $25,000 in supplies for Wake County teachers.
In 2022, more than $5,000 worth of supplies were donated during the drive. About 1,200 items – a value of more than $3,000 – were collected around SAS campus for Tools4Schools, which lets teachers “shop” for free supplies for their classrooms. Another $2,228 worth of items was purchased through a custom data-driven Amazon wish list.
Interns and fellows branching out
The SAS participants self-selected into four teams – Data Science, Operations, Events and Marketing – with each team mentored by full-time SAS employees in those fields.
The Data Science team created visualizations to give insight into the amounts and types of items collected, monetary value, where most items were donated and trends over time.
With Operations defining and tracking progress, Events getting donation bins created and handling the shopping day, and Marketing spreading the word through numerous channels – including creating an interactive quiz – interns got to play various roles in making the drive a success.
By identifying the most-needed supplies, the interns could target those for donation, assuring that teachers would arrive on shopping day to find exactly what they were looking for.
In 2022, the interns were on hand for a "shopping day" where 61 teachers exchanged points for classroom supplies. The teachers expressed awe and gratitude at the selection of items, but perhaps no one enjoyed it more than the United in STEM interns themselves.
“My favorite part of the experience was directly seeing the impact we had on the teachers and Tools4Schools representatives,” said Yutika Aggarwal, a United in STEM intern on the Operations team. “Hearing the feedback from teachers during shopping day, it was very inspiring knowing that our summer work had an impact. I was inspired to continue working with a company that supports my own beliefs and actively works towards applying its software to a good cause.”
This year, the SAS interns and fellows instead participated in a "stocking day" to load up the T4S store for teachers to visit when it's back-to-school time.
Shopping day and beyond
WakeEd Partnership was founded in 1983 and has served uniquely in the education space as an independent nonprofit committed to improving public education and advocating for excellent educational opportunities for all students.
While the organization has been active for nearly 40 years, Tools4Schools launched in January 2022 to serve the 11,000 teachers in North Carolina’s largest school district.
That made it perfect timing for data-driven projects like these that can examine the unique challenges the program faces and use insights from the data collected and analyzed to make an impact beyond just the supply drives.
“I’m interested to continue the conversation and the work on the data part of the project because we’re trying to learn, too,” WakeEd Partnership President Keith Poston says. “We’re not a retail organization, but we are moving a lot of products. We want to do it in the most cost-effective, efficient way. If I’ve heard it once from a teacher, I’ve heard it 100 times – it’s like Christmas. We know it’s filling a need.”