Influencer Maria Mensing

Interview August 2020

Could you share with us some information of your family life?
I am married and we have 2 beautiful boys, one of 10 and the other is 9 years old. I come from a family of 6 children, of which two of them also live in Curaçao. I was raised by my mother. I was born in Barquisimeto, Venezuela and when I was 20 years old, I came to Curaçao.

Could you share with us some of your educational background and past professional experiences?
I have studied hospitality management in Venezuela and when I was in Curaçao I also got a degree in Busines Management at the UNA.

What kind of businesses are you involved in?
I am currently the Owner and Director of Snapology ABC Islands and Director of Mensing’s Caminada, after being a stay at home mom for 8 years.

When my boys were born I decided to become a stay at home mom, after working in the hospitality sector, as I wanted tobe their main caretaker as they grew up and I stayed 8 years home with them. It turned out to be the best decision I ever made. I really wouldn’t change it for the world.

My grandfather used to say “Education is the best inheritance that you can give to your children” and I believe it too. So when my kids were born, I was (and still are) constantly thinking on what is the best way to educate these amazing people I was granted the responsibility to raise. I read many books on parenting to find the right approach for my family.

When my first son went to school, I noticed a sharp contrast between the confident, happy kid that I send to school and the person I got back when he came back from school every day. I got an insecure, unhappy kid! I asked myself what happened, and I kept looking. I knew that something was not right and through the reading I’ve been doing I learned about STEAM Education, this was eye-opening for me, and I became really interested in learning more about it.

On a trip to LEGOLAND I let my 4 years old son follow a one time workshop. In this workshop my son got a 10 minutes explanation about gears and after that he build a machine that used gears. He built this robot and used coding to program it, it was a mind-blowing experience for him. After that every time he saw gears he was like: Mama look… gears! In just 45 minutes, he learned about gears in a super fun and engaging way, which turns into long-lasting knowledge!

When he left the workshop, he was so excited. Then I thought, we need this approach to education in Curaçao, but we did not have it, I looked for it because I wanted my children to keep developing this way.

Since this kind of educational activities were not offered in Curaçao I started looking abroad, that is how I found Snapology in 2016 and tried to get a franchise. At first, I went to a broker, but it was way too expensive and therefore not sustainable for a small market like the market in Curaçao. Also at the time one of my boys develop health issues so I let the Snapology idea on the side to focus on my family, but Snapology remained a dream.

In January 2018, things were better so I decided to look again into that dream I had put aside. This time I got in contact with the founder herself Laura Coe, I explained that we are a small community and after 4 months of negotiations in May 2018 I signed the contract and that I consider a Big Win for all of us in Curaçao.

Snapology offers a modern approach to learning. We promise to provide unique and highly relevant educational programs and experiences aimed at nurturing the skills that children will need to be successful in the future. This is why I fell in love with this company, as I was looking for an educational approach that really inspire children to become the creators of the new world.

And like that Snapology started in Curaçao.

I was reading this book by Neil deGrasse Tyson an American Astrophysicists that has this great quote. “Everyone should have their mind blown, once a day” this reminded me about one of the things that shocked me or impressed me the most when we just started teaching Robotics classes, children that literally jump out of their chairs when their robot started to move. They had no idea at first what might happen and this excitement sparks their imagination even more.

It was so exciting to see the children jumping from their chairs, as their minds were blown away by these experiences. Kids crave these positive, interesting stimulation. This approach to learning also encourage them to practice incredible valuable skills such as problem solving, Critical thinking, Collaboration, Creativity and Communication. (the 4 C’s)

I have taught classes myself and it is very remarkable and disturbing, when I ask the kids: “What do you think?” they freeze and look at me with a big question mark in their faces. Kids here are not used to be asked “What do you think?” and its sad because they have so much to say and so much to contribute. But we are in a system that is focused on teaching children to obey more than to create, and where making mistakes is something to be ashamed of.

The 4 C’s is also part of Snapology curriculums with the goal to help kids develop their social emotional intelligence. It is a “hands-on”- method and very interactive, socially engaging where the kids are challenged to express their thoughs, and expressing themselves without fear helps builds their self-confidence.

Can I give you an example of our kids’ imagination? 
Once, my boys build a tent in our living room, and I said to them: Ok, we are camping inside the house! to which they replied: “It’s not a tent, Mama! It’s a Rocket! We are going to space!”.

That is what imagination does, only a free mind can be like that and think out the box, with no boundaries and endless possibilities.

There is a very interesting study done to understand creativity. NASA had contacted Dr George Land and Beth Jarman to develop a highly specialized test that would give them the means to effectively measure the creative potential of NASA’s rocket scientists and engineers. They found in NASA that only 2 % were considered imagination geniuses.

The test turned out to be very successful for NASA’s purposes, but the scientists were left with a few questions: where does creativity come from? Are some people born with it or is it learned? Or does it come from our experience?

The scientists then gave the test to 1,600 children between the ages of 4 and 5. What they found shocked them.

As the age of the children in the study increased, the percentage of geniuses got lower. At age 5, 98% are considered genius level, at age 10 drops to only 30%, at age 15 only 12% and in correlation with the results at NASA it lowered to a meager 2 % of adults. The conclusion was the educational system we have now is not designed to nurture to creativity. This educational system was built to deliver graduates that would fit in an Industrial Age world. These days in the 21st century the world needs thinkers, people that will create the new world. We need people that can think creatively, that are flexible and can solve problems.

Our teachers aware of STEAM?
Last year, we offered an introduction to STEAM to 30 teachers at Snapology. The big majority of them didn’t know what STEAM was. After getting to know what it was, they loved it. But we still have a long way to go, as people don’t like change and the problem is that change will come whether we want it or not, and our children deserve to be prepared.

I firmly believe that STEAM become a really an important part of our educational system. I have seen slowly but surely more and more schools approaching us with interest in our STEAM programs and that’s really encouraging, since awareness is the key. They understand that the brain connections children get in our classes will be there forever. My goal is to empower our community through knowledge and to create awareness about the need of STEAM as fundamental part of the education of our children. Like here in Mensing’s Caminada we have a whole next section of STEAM with toys, which are educational tools.

We are passionate about being able to provide affordable good quality educational tools to our customers and the society at large.

We were referred to you by Heinrich Angela as he considers your influence in the area of STEAM education important to take notice of on the ABC islands. Where does these interests come from?
Seeing the need of a different way of education for my kids, I saw how they craved another type of learning than memory learning. Memory learning is not what they want. They want a practical, creative and engaging education, where they are free to communicate and express themselves and be valued at the same time. Our children are innovators, and world needs more of that.

What is your BIG WHY or driving motivation to be whom you are right now? 
My BIG WHY is contributing to the big changes that are coming. I truly believe that if I can inspire one child to think creatively and seek a future into STEAM, that is a really good accomplishment. I love giving to children a bigger view of the world that is underway and inspire what they could become. I want to contribute to the developing genius minds for the future success of the world one child at the time.

When do you consider that you have been successful in your personal and business/professional life, let us say 5 years from now?
Success is not a destination, it is a journey. In the journey, I feel very satisfied where I am right now. If I can maintain Snapology this means I can keep inspiring children. My mission is to nurture the creativity of children, which means changing the world, one child at the time. I enjoy seeing the wonder in children. And would consider a huge success if we could be teaching it in every school in Curaçao!

Success at a personal level would be, my kids. To be able to guide my kids into STEAM. I don’t know what they would become later on in the lives. But I’m here to guide them in the process of all these changes that are coming, even when that means learning a lot myself. It’s a new world and we as parents have the responsibility to be aware to be able to give our children the tools they will need in their life. The other day, my 9 years old son told me, that he wants to become a YouTuber. And he explained to me what this was all about. You need to create content, you need to market, you need to do video editing, it requires lots of social media awareness. He explained to me that he needed a much better computer than the old computer he had, so that he could be able to do this and that. It is not just the posting of a video every day, but there are so many new things involved all the time. So this is to illustrate that becoming a YouTuber is no small thing. And I would be successful if I would be able to guide my kids to navigate these new waters.

What are the challenges that you are dealing with? And how are you dealing with these different challenges you confront?
The lack of awareness about the importance of the educational approach Snapology stands for, hand of learning, STEAM, coding, robotics, the mastery over the 4 C’s is very important for the future of our children and our community.

In Curaçao there isn’t a lot of awareness about the importance of STEAM education. Parents would tell me that their kid can’t attend Snapology because their child needs to practice soccer 4 times a week! I would say why not use one of the 4 days to do Snapology STEAM Education the sport of the brain!

I want to share a personal story back then when I was 10 years old. My mother enrolled me in an English course and told me that English was the future. In Venezuela back then some people told, that she was wasting her money. My mother insisted. I now speak better English than all of my cousins. I have gotten many opportunities because I could speak English. I am living 18 years in Curaçao now and if I didn’t speak English and I couldn’t have achieved as much as I have achieved now. The same goes for the future of STEAM. Our children need to know these skills for any future career they might choose. The challenge thus is to create awareness on the importance of STEAM.

Do you use your inner voice to evaluate when dilemma’s show up? How does that work for you?
I trust my inner gut, that little voice inside of me is usually right. But of course I also like to analyze the situation and ask for advice to people I trust, just to prevent myself to take a decision out of pure emotions.

When I have a dilemma, ultimately I base my decision by answering this: Can I live with it? Can I live with the consequences? So if it’s a yes, it’s a go!

How are you trying also to keep up with your personal knowledge and skills levels?
I read a lot and I build (LEGO) a lot. I am a certified facilitator for Lego Serious Play (LSP). It is a methodology used by companies to develop strategies and to tap into the knowledge inside of the organizations. I do use this methodology at Mensing’s Caminada with my team and I always have my Lego bricks with me. I also talk to a lot of people, every person is a world.

What are your strengths?
I am very dedicated, I work very efficiently on my causes.

I am very passionate on everything I do and I know what I can and can’t do. Where I am not good at, I find someone to help to do what I can’t. It gives synergy and adds value myself and others.

Do you have hobbies or interests that you are also passionate about?
My hobbies are equal to what I love to do. What do I do? Through Snapology I love thinking of a new way to inspire children, at Mensing’s Caminada I look for ways to provide educational experiences and tools at affordable prices. I love to empower adults and children through education. For me all that I am doing, it doesn’t feel like work. It is what I really wake up for in the morning to do.

If you as Maria would meet a stranger in the bus (let say in Holland or the US) and they would ask you to tell them more about you. What would you say?
I am originally from Venezuela, and I have made Curaçao my home. I am passionate about the power of education to transform lives.

How would you describe Maria in one word or one sentence?
Passionate, I care a lot about any positive influence that I could have on the people that I am close to or touch in any way.

Whom are the persons that have inspired you the most in your career?
My kids, they are my greatest teachers, they are my mirror. If something is right or wrong, they will throw it in your face for the best or the worst. It can be hard to swallow, but I encourage them to express themselves respectfully, what they think and with no excuses. My sons are 10 and 9 years old and there is a lot of wisdom there. I listen a lot to them because they observe me, and through their eyes and how they see the world, I get to know what I need to do and what is needed.

What is a trait that is still work in progress?
I tend to load myself with a lot of things and it is at times overwhelming as I can have too much on my plate. I need to develop the ability to say “no” more often.

What was a defining moment in your life?
I was in a car accident in 2003 in Venezuela, at the moment I was planning to move to Italy, I was in Venezuela getting some documents I needed. The car accident was a kind of wake-up call for me, as I had time to do some serious reflection, about where I really wanted to be. I came to realize that life isn’t guaranteed and I didn’t want to be far away from the people I love. I began to appreciate the things that really matter to me and I never went back to Italy. I reconnected with whom is my husband today. I am now very happy with my husband and with the family and life we have built together and I wouldn’t change it for nothing in the world.

Where do you want to be 15 to 20 years from now with your career?
I would still be doing what I love to do and that is still being able to contribute to the community in the way that I can.

What would you want your Loved Ones, family, friends and others to say about you let’s say 20 years from now?
The opinion that really matter to me is the one of those with whom I have a deep relationship, my close family. I wish they would say that I followed my passion and I that inspired them to follow their own passion and stick to it no matter what. That I made it and that I will continue to make it happen against all odds.

We are climbing out of the lock down now and just starting to open our borders back since the first of July, because of the presence of the Corona virus in World. What makes you stay optimistic about the future of Curaçao?
Education will always be a pillar of any society and it has been this for the longest time. Being able to be part of the educational experience in the community, through Snapology and Mensing’s Caminada as outlets where the community kids can have access to the latest educational insights, where kids and adults can be inspired and empowered, is a real privilege. It comes with responsibility to be there and be able to provide it.

Crisis is the birth place of innovation and development. It gives me the drive to eagerly look forward for the positive innovations and developments that are underway. It is a time of lots of opportunities also. I do believe in the future of Curaçao.

Curaçao just as the rest of the world has gone through ups and downs and has shown resilience. Now is the time to build and show resilience once again, and through crisis you will get the biggest innovations and changes.

What is the strategy that Snapology is using to promote STEAM in our educational system via Snapology?
The school system is very bureaucratic and there are many dynamics and stakeholders that play a role. It is difficult to broaden the curriculum at this point in time, for example. That is why it is difficult to introduce STEAM in public schools. We are having more success with partnering with private schools and after schools that are also private schools. Because of the difficulty in getting to public schools, I opened a really wonderful Discovery Center, so the whole community can have access to our programs, we provide weekly classes and also parents can drop their children on Saturdays for creative play.

Final note
As I was preparing to leave our interview Maria tested me and gave me 1 minute to build a duck with the lego’s she handed to me. I made a duck yes, I made my duck that didn’t looked like Maria’s duck she had made before and what was the lesson learned? I am free to express what kind of duck I want to create, whatever I build was okay as there is no “one size fits all” situation when we are in a creative mode. This same can also be applied in a company working on improving client friendliness. Not everybody will express their friendliness with the same identical style. That was a great lesson.

More info
Website: Snapology Curacao
Insta: snapologycuracao
Facebook: Snapology ABC Islands

One of the 250 Influencers of Curaçao
Maria Mensing is a passionate, positive, dedicated, efficient, driver of STEAM (Science Technology Engineering Arts and Math), via “Snapology”. A mother of two sons, her sons have influenced and still are influencing her greatly as she considers them to be her biggest teachers. Looking, and finding the missing link in the education of her sons, made her discover STEAM. STEAM also includes Social Emotional Learning where the children are taught the 4 C’s, namely Creative Thinking, Critical Thinking, Collaboration and Communication skills and is the best way to prepare for the upcoming changes in the world, according to Maria. Considering her passion for education in general as the most important inheritance a parent can give to their children and specifically her passion and determination to introduce STEAM in the curriculum of the education of our children at an “as affordable price possible” as the Director of Mensing’s Caminada, has convinced us that she is 100 % aligned with the goals of the Share2Uplift movement. That her efforts are also fully aligned with the thinking of Center for Curriculum Redesign (see below). Because of her dedication to education Maria will undoubtedly succeed to enable and create impactful changes in the educational field. For this we consider Maria Mensing definitely one the 250 Influencers on the island, representing the educational sector.

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