Nina-Marie Amadeo: Going Right to the Source
Students of any age looking to make a difference in the world need only look to Nina-Marie Amadeo, chief executive officer at The Source University, for inspiration.
Where did your desire to volunteer and give back come from?
I’ve always had a bias for action. If I see something that could be improved, especially something that is harming others, and feel I can improve it, I’m going to do everything I can to do that.
My first real volunteer experience started when I was in elementary school. I grew up in a town with a high population of autistic people, specifically children, and have multiple autistic family members. Lots of families with autistic kids started moving to my town because we had a reputation for great special needs programs, so these programs’ funding needs kept growing. Seeing this, I decided to do what I could to help. I started racing soap-box derby cars and eventually raised over $28,000 through sponsorships and teddy bear sales to help fund programs for autistic kids within my school district.
My early fundraising success through racing showed me that, given the opportunity and means, most people do want to help those who need it. Once I went to college I realized that help can come in the forms of advocacy and support, through lifting the voices of people who aren’t being heard or listened to.
Where did the idea for The Source University come from, and how did your work at Wellesley College inform this new business?
In late 2014, I was part of an organization campaigning for my college, Wellesley College, to open its doors to transgender women. We held numerous training sessions on gender and gender identity with members of the campus community, so we would all have the same base of knowledge when entering campus-wide discussions. We had tons of students show up, but, try as we might, getting professors to attend was tough.
All too often, a professor who had promised us they would attend simply didn’t show up. Most had seemed excited at the idea of the sessions, so I decided to reach out to faculty and staff to ask what kept them from these in-person sessions. Their responses pointed to fears of “saying the wrong thing,” seeming “stupid” in front of their students, admitting they didn’t already have all the answers, and not having time to attend sessions during typical hours.
Our inability to really reach faculty and staff still bothered me even years later, after Wellesley began admitting trans women. I was concerned that trans women were going to be entering an environment unprepared for their needs, one that wasn’t even perfect for the trans men and nonbinary students already attending the college for years. To combat this and break down the attendance barriers presented by in-person in-services on gender, I developed Transmission. I didn’t know it yet, but that was the start of The Source University.
Transmission’s Resources and References sections deliver Gender 101-style information relevant to college faculty and staff in accessible chunks, available at their convenience. Our online, patent-pending dual-anonymity model powers our Q&A section, so faculty and staff can ask their real questions to trans students without worrying about how they are being perceived. It also allows trans students to speak openly about their needs, challenges, and experiences, without fear of outting themselves to college faculty and staff.
After just one semester of use at Wellesley College, 97% of faculty and staff users found Transmission informative and 93% of them reported they would recommend it to a colleague.
I quickly realized organizations across the country could benefit from Transmission as well as more diversity education tools utilizing my model, so The Source University was born! We’re currently working on a module with a similar structure to Transmission, but aimed at supporting disabled students. I’m excited to see how far Transmission can spread across the world, alongside our future diversity training programs.
“Once I went to college I realized that help can come in the forms of advocacy and support, through lifting the voices of people who aren’t being heard or listened to.”
Why did you choose colleges/universities, companies, and other organizations as your focus?
I chose colleges, companies, and other organizations as the main focus of The Source University because I feel their employees have the ability to impact the most people. College faculty and staff interact with both coworkers and a rotating cast of students each year, while employees at, for example, a bank will interact with their coworkers as well as different customers each day.
Why did you choose to establish a socially conscious business?
I chose to establish a socially conscious business because I witnessed the common phenomenon of marginalized people being put in a position to educate others on their experiences without pay. It’s emotionally and physically taxing to re-live hurtful experiences by explaining them to those who don’t know or understand, and I feel very strongly that this work should be compensated whenever possible. The Source University pays trans people for their knowledge, time, and related expertise while working on Transmission, and we will continue to pay them as they work in our Question and Answer section. The same goes for members of marginalized groups supporting The Source University’s future modules.
My three internships at Google helped build my confidence in my technical ability. I really needed that in order to turn Transmission from a nebulous idea into a service, then a company. As I finish up my last semester of college and look forward to starting full time at Google this fall, I’m committed to pushing The Source University forward for years to come.
What advice would you give other young people who want to use their business to make a difference?
Go for it! At the end of the day, you don’t know if something will work out until you try. I do want to highlight the importance of working with the group you are trying to help, especially if you’re not a member of it. All too often you may think you’re doing good, while accidentally creating further harm in areas you didn’t foresee. When in doubt, consult and compensate.
Nina-Marie Amadeo, a senior at Wellesley College studying computer science and sociology, will take her skills as a software engineer to Google in September. Find out more about Transmission and The Source University at thesourceuniversity.com.