STEM: It Does a Brain Good!

Growing up, I was the kid who aced every English paper. I was “fluent” in grammar and punctuation, and I could recite all my prepositions to the tune of Yankee Doodle Dandy. (Still can!) Teachers would applaud my “gift of gab” and tout my ability to create dynamic story leads and transition seamlessly between thoughts.

What I couldn’t do was Algebra.

I struggled with geometry.

The thought of sitting through a calculus class sent shivers down my spine.

And every science class either confused me or bored me to tears.

I was told repeatedly by teachers and just about every adult in my life that I was a “right brain” so I shouldn’t stress that I couldn’t solve for X or that STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) subjects weren’t “my thing.” I’d never need this knowledge for the types of careers I’d pursue and eventually settle into.

They were completely wrong.

Nurture Versus Nature

Today, I lead Employee Engagement at Avaya, which is a fancy way of saying I communicate with employees. I write, edit and consult (my strengths!), and I’m never asked about square roots, the Periodic Table or the Pythagorean Theorem (my weaknesses). Even simple arithmetic isn’t part of my daily job (and if by chance it is, my laptop and smartphone are equipped with a calculator).

What I didn’t know back then was that STEM subjects teach us how to think … critically. We learn to look at complex problems from all angles and then put forth innovative and thoughtful solutions. This isn’t to say that I’m not thoughtful or rational, but when it comes to really understanding the financial and technical complexities of business and technology, I struggle…and in that way it does impact my career. Writing a communication from my CFO is much more difficult for me then writing for my CMO. In fact, translating earnings for employees is how I imagine that calc class to be—painful.

Settling into my comfort zone rather than forcing myself to really tackle and learn STEM subjects hinders me today, and because of that I made a commitment early on that my children wouldn’t repeat my mistakes.

Raising Whole Brain Children

Most of us have a dominant side, but that doesn’t mean the other side can’t be nurtured. In fact, it’s important that it is. To that end, my husband and I make sure we provide opportunities to all three of our children that play to their strengths but also develop their less dominant sides.


Our older son, Dylan, is a perfect mix of right (he’s a talented artist and can learn on his own any string instrument) and left (he excels in STEM), but when we noticed his writing wasn’t where it should be, he spent last summer with a tutor. Guess what? His lowest grade in Honors English this past school year was a 96, and he was placed in AP Lit for the upcoming year! Strong writing skills are something that can and should be developed. Don’t let anyone tell you it’s a gift with which you’re born. It’s learned and it’s necessary. And if you love the written word, it can become a passion, career or even just mental exercise!

Ryan, our middle, is a full-on science guy so in addition to STEM camps, he takes private art and guitar lessons, and is a contributor to the school newspaper. Writing comes easy to him but he doesn’t like it. His articles are about draft picks, fantasy football and the NY Jets. But he’s writing!

Our youngest—little Miss Sienna—well, she’s a right brain if ever there were one. A voracious reader since the age of five, she’s also part of a Youth Writer’s Group in Maplewood, NJ. She gets lost for hours on end in her art, books and words. It’s amazing—all that creativity at just 10 years of age. And this week, she’s in her third STEM camp, analyzing and creatively solving real-world problems through science, technology, engineering, and math concepts. Brilliant!

What we’ve found is that all three enjoy the change of pace. They genuinely like exploring different areas and challenging themselves to think differently. Best of all, they’re racking up new and diverse experiences, which helps broaden their view of the world…wins across the board.

What do you think? Do you think STEM education is important for everyone? What about art, music and writing? Is it important to expose ourselves to areas that challenge our thinking? Would you agree that our greatest lessons and most rewarding wins come from doing so?


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IP Office Leads the Way: How Doubling Down in One Product Area Can Drive Best Practices

Just over a month ago, we released the latest version of Avaya IP Office, one of the most popular SMB/MM UC systems on the market today. Over the past year, we’ve doubled the number of partners who are offering IP Office as a cloud deployment and have now shipped more than half a million systems globally—but this kind of success didn’t come overnight.

We’ve evolved Avaya IP Office a long way over the years, growing the product from something geared towards the SMB space (typically 100 users and below) to something that can scale all the way up to the midmarket, serving up to 3,000 users. Adding this scale to the product was extremely important because as our customers and partners grow, we can now grow right along with them. It also opens up the potential market served by the product.

Evolving with Our Customers and Partners

At Avaya, we have two groups of people to keep happy—our end users and our channel partners—and both want to make long-term investments in a communications solution and trusted business partner. That’s why, instead of concentrating on multiple product lines, we’re focused on continually enhancing Avaya IP Office with new features and capabilities, such as the new release 10, which adds a number benefits for businesses in terms of security, resiliency and end-user experience.

Our partners are happy with this approach because their salespeople now only need to know one single product, making it easier to sell, manage and configure the technology for a wide range of businesses (anywhere from a 10-person to 3,000-person company). And our customers are thrilled because as they expand and evolve, they have a flexible, scalable communications solution that can still meet their every need.

Businesses can even expand the solution into a simple and robust multi-channel call center. With IP Office Contact Center or Avaya Contact Center Select, companies can integrate voice, e-mail, and web chat channels, and proactively manage the entire customer interaction lifecycle. They can start at their own pace with one channel such as voice, for example, and add other channels such as e-mail as business objectives evolve. In June, Avaya also announced a highly affordable, simple-to-deploy workforce optimization solution that enables a wide range of insights into the customer experience, allowing midsize businesses to create the most value through every customer interaction.

Providing Investment Protection

While many businesses are aware of cloud, not everyone wants it right now. Because Avaya IP Office is offered as a cloud, hybrid cloud, or premises based deployment, businesses can move to the cloud at a more measured pace—adding new features and capabilities from the cloud as they become available or needed, and leveraging the investment they have in a premises deployment.

For instance, a business could start with an IP Office solution today on premises, and then migrate to cloud or hybrid cloud in a year or even five years from now—and all the features and training they’ve given to employees will stay exactly the same because the end-user experience will be the same.

Providing further investment protection, Avaya even allows customers running on old Nortel technology to seamlessly move their user licenses to IP Office at minimal cost.

A Relentless Focus on Quality

Doubling down in one product area has also allowed Avaya to put a premium on quality. Today, Avaya’s Net Promoter Score (NPS)—a measure of the willingness of a customer to recommend a company’s products or services to others—hovers around 58, which is considered excellent in almost any industry. The Net Promoter Score for IP Office has been over 70 for the last several quarters.

This sky-high NPS is all the more impressive when you consider Avaya IP Office is for small 10-user customers and larger 3,000-user customers. This ability to meet high- and low-end needs is pretty unique in the industry, and is only achievable because of the company’s relentless focus on quality and features.

Always striving to understand the needs of our customers, we’re constantly adding new enhancements to IP Office. Leveraging much of the knowledge and experience we learned at the enterprise-level with Avaya Aura, we continue to add usability and resiliency to IP Office. In fact, the latest version of the platform features built-in signaling and media encryption for endpoints and UC clients, helping preserve privacy and data integrity. This increase in security is especially significant to the midmarket, where the number of attacks reported by midsize companies increased 64% between 2013 and 2014, according to the 2015 global survey report.

Beyond other pure cloud deployments, the latest version of IP Office also takes a unique approach to resilience, providing system failover cloud to cloud, cloud to premises, premises to cloud, and premises to premises, keeping your system active and users connected through any outage.

Moving forward, we’ll continue to add enhancements to Avaya IP Office, relentlessly driving quality and features for our growing list of customers and partners.

Heads in the Cloud: Digital Natives and Unified Communications

Millennial—a four-syllable word that may as well be a four-letter one. Millennials are polarizing, and everyone seems to have an opinion about Gen Y, especially when it comes to the workplace.

For many 20- and 30-somethings in the workforce, an unfortunate reality is a stigma around their generation—a disdain for their unwillingness to cope with the status quo of conventional workplace policies. But with that comes the realization that the guard has changed, and they now make up a majority of the workforce, driving the future of their chosen industries.

Young workers are driving a paradigm shift in the working world, putting a greater emphasis on work-life balance and striving for career advancement, with an unprecedented willingness to jump ship from a current position to find something that better suits their needs and goals. Companies need to be able to court and retain the best of the digital native generation, making adjustments to suit the employees of the future.

As a proud member of Gen Y, I can say that the technology and services available in the workplace are some of the most important factors to me, and I’m not alone. I’m part of a contingent of employees that have more than just our heads in the cloud and having access to our work anywhere and everywhere is vital. In a survey conducted by, 84% of Gen Y-ers polled said they would prefer to work remotely full time. While that may not be realistic in every situation, there’s no doubt that the workplace is becoming more mobile, and productivity is not limited to a desk in an office building. Cloud-enabled unified communications and collaboration tools are the new wave, and something that Avaya excels at.

It’s for this reason that I’m happy—even proud—to work for Avaya. They see the way technology in the workplace is moving, and continue to make it easier for companies to go through digital transformations, moving smoothly into the future. And I, like many Avayans, can speak to the quality of our products and solutions first hand.

I use Avaya solutions just about every day of my life to collaborate and get my work done, from wherever and whenever I need to. I’m still amazed at how fluidly and effortlessly I can communicate with colleagues from around the world, from any device. While it’s nice to disconnect from the working world temporarily, it’s also immensely comforting to know that through Avaya technology, I can be face to face with anyone I need to talk to in a matter of minutes.

Effective communication is important in our mobile world. My generation of digital natives comes predisposed to being connected with one another effortlessly and near constantly. Having the right unified communications technology in place to facilitate fully formed and engaging collaboration experiences is vital, and something that Avaya can do for a business of any size in any industry.

This generation of employees does not want work to be easy; rather we want it to be easier to get work done. Having technology in place that allows people to maintain flexibility in their lives while still producing quality work is a necessary step for any business that wants to retain young talent and maximize results.

Avaya and IAUG: Coming Together for a Better User Group Experience

Marilyn ShuckMarilyn Shuck serves as a Director on the IAUG Board, president of the Puget Sound Avaya Users Group, and as a UC Engineer at the University of Washington.



The combination of the Avaya Technology Forum (ATF) and the International Avaya Users Group (IAUG) flagship event, Avaya ENGAGE, is generating a lot of buzz. As IAUG members, it’s exciting for us because we’ll be there as Avaya is announcing new products and have better access to Avaya. We’re also looking forward to bringing in more technical expertise, session choice, and potential new members to IAUG.

In the past, ATF was held in February or March, and Avaya ENGAGE was in June. By the time we assembled for Avaya ENGAGE, new product lines would have been out for several months. Now, we’ll get to hear the latest announcements. Since we’re partnering with Avaya, we’ll have much more access to them, getting our questions answered, getting trained, and seeing the new products in action.

We’re also able to offer so many more sessions, some with more technical expertise. ATF has historically been a technical conference, and our IAUG attendees will have a choice of breakout sessions that will add a new dimension to the education they’ll already be receiving.

It also makes sense to hold both of these events under one umbrella. There’s some overlap between ATF attendees and Avaya ENGAGE attendees, and in organizations where travel budgets are tight or where the same person is a technical support specialist and a user, you no longer have to choose which event to attend.

Additionally, we’re excited about the possibility of introducing new members to IAUG. Some ATF attendees may not have known about our existence, but now not only will they have the chance to learn more about us but they can network with us. We can continue to share learning opportunities and even bring a whole new quality of technical users to IAUG.

Make no mistake, the foundation of the event has not changed. This is still planned with the Avaya customer in mind. However, it signals our deepening relationship by aligning all customer events.

This is going to be one of those cases where what happens in Las Vegas won’t stay in Vegas. Avaya and IAUG are aligning, and it’s going to provide valuable education and opportunities for customers, IAUG members, partners, and Avaya. The benefits of attending will resonate throughout your organization, so plan to join us in February to learn, network, and return full of ways to make the most of your Avaya implementations. You can learn more at