Despite the dismal weather and her mild malady, Mistick's spirits and outlook are as cheery as the green, blue and yellow color scheme of the coffee shop.
The Distinguished Service Professor of Entrepreneurship and Public Policy at Carnegie Mellon University's H. John Heinz School of Public Policy and Management is heading a project designed to raise awareness of the value of math and science education among girls.
So what's the connection between math and science awareness and business?
"It's like entrepreneurship; people have to get comfortable with the concept of entrepreneurship and what they can do as entrepreneurs," says Mistick. "This is really about getting comfortable with science and math and what you can do with that skill base."
In the future, says Mistick, math and science skills will be critical for today's youngsters.
The Girls in Math and Science Partnership, a joint effort of CMU, Family Communications Inc. and the University of Pittsburgh, uses video installations in public facilities, including PNC Park and Kennywood Park, where the crowd gets short lessons in math and science illustrated by practical examples involving curve balls or roller coasters.
The former director of Seton Hill University's National Education Center for Women, Mistick is convinced that her job at CMU is every bit as supportive of entrepreneurship as her previous position.
"I'm not moving away from entrepreneurship. I still believe in it," Mistick says.
Her current position, she says, moves the effort "to a nascent stage of entrepreneurship. These are all entrepreneurs-to-be. They are the ones you want in your future."
Smart Business spoke with Mistick about her new job and the importance of math and science education.
What is your role at CMU?
I'm working on a National Science Foundation grant project, with my primary responsibility around math and science, creating "community conversations" around them. That's how I'm defining it.
What we're trying to do is encourage people to understand the importance of math and science, that to really have the right skills for jobs in the future or for entrepreneurial ventures, it would be wise to have a certain level of math and science education in your background, regardless of what you do.
The world is changing and evolving so quickly. Most employers you talk to say they need those skills. These are critical skills, and people that don't have them are really at a disadvantage in terms of the portability of their skills, the flexibility of their skills.
I think we've spent a good amount of time, over a decade, trying to convince people about reading literacy. We're at a new point in time where we want people to expand their awareness of the need for math and science literacy.
Why is math and science literacy so critical?
Life has gotten more complex. There are multiple dimensions to everyone's job functions. That's what's exciting about this.
When I went to Seton Hill, it was about creating an entrepreneurial culture, about getting them to understand the value of math and science. What we know is girls and boys have the ability to learn them, so it's a matter of convincing them that those skills are important. What we're trying to do is take a look at how there's math and science underlying everything you do. We did a video installation this summer at PNC Park. Pre-game, on the Jumbotron, we showed these video spots that take a look at some of the science and math that happen at the ballpark.
What we do with each of these is take a look at the venue we're in and look at the math and science that occurs within it. One of my favorites, they're all my favorites, really, is one that comes up and asks where's the best place to sit in the park if I want to catch a foul ball. It shows so many fall here, so many fall there but that the most fall here.
These are not real heavy duty learning exercises, but what they're meant to do is sort of create a conversation between kids and their parents, mothers and daughters, brothers and sisters, so that they start to take a look at the fact that math and science are everywhere, and they're not something that they can't do or that they're out of their reach.
I think it's just about making people feel like all of it is accessible, that you can understand them.
How can you tell if it has any effect?
The interesting thing is that the project is geared toward doing an installation and then doing an assessment to see how effective they are. At PNC Park, we ask people what they remember about the video so we can tell which ones are most effective, which ones weren't, how much information you can really communicate in 30 seconds.
That's really exciting, because you get feedback about the effectiveness of what you're doing and you can feed that into the next installation. We have a couple of installations at Kennywood. People in the queue -- it's such a great thing; you're standing in the queue, you have nothing else to do except wait to get on the ride, and then here is this just-in-time information about the roller coaster or the Logjammer; where I should sit if I don't want to get wet, will I get wet here, am I likely to stay dry here.
What persuaded you to leave Seton Hill to take on this position?
What was so appealing to me was (the opportunity) to really impact young girls. Our (installations) are sort of focused toward middle-school kids, and they're done in a way that we think appeals to girls first.
But they're not just for girls. They're really for girls, for boys, for families, but what we know is that if we engage girls first, boys will be engaged, too. But if we do the shoot-'em-up kind of video games, they appeal to boys but they turn girls off. Girls don't hear the message at all.
The research says that if the signs are done in such a way that they capture our primary audience, which is young girls, we can also capture the attention of young boys.
How does your experience at Seton Hill carry over to your role at CMU?
At Seton Hill, I had a great opportunity to work with women entrepreneurs, which was just wonderful, knowing what their problems are at the point where they go into business and understanding where their problems are when they're at mid-career.
It helped me to understand what we needed to do better early on. So that's been the most valuable part of it, knowing that if you start earlier, have sort of an intervention that creates greater opportunity at an earlier stage, then perhaps women will start businesses at a younger age, maybe they'll grow bigger ventures, maybe they'll have a more diverse set of skills.
I think that's been very informative to me.
One of the other things I learned at Seton Hill is how tremendously satisfying it is to work directly with people. Sometimes when you work in big systems -- you know, the K-12 system is huge -- it's really hard to see change occur very quickly. But when you work in the informal network, people make the difference in your work on a daily basis.
We spend so much time working, I like to do things where I feel like I'm making a contribution, where I feel like I'm adding somehow to enrich people's experience, and so when I worked at the center, I did so many things that were of an outreach nature, where I got to see people who would say that this was really a great program that changed what I was doing.
When you're working in an informal arena, what you do is out there right away. If you were at PNC Park, you would have seen the video clips. People see them and they give you feedback right away.
How does the population and the business community at large benefit from this?
If we are able to encourage more of our kids, girls and boys, to acquire these skills and stay here, then we create a stronger region and we create a stronger work force for the future. And so many employers tell you that they have to reach outside the area.
People see this as a work force issue. There's funding out there, there are people who are interested in this topic, there's a lot of research being done in this area, and it's because if we don't start, then we lose people. And it's hard to get people to go back and capture these skills.
What's the connection between entrepreneurship and math and science literacy?
Entrepreneurship is a lot about making people open and flexible. You've got to be open to opportunities, you've got to be flexible about taking advantage of opportunities, and this is really about making people curious.
You want people to be curious about how things work, about how things function, and increasingly, people are more responsible for their own futures. They're not going to work at one place forever. You see each one of those moves as a new challenge.
I didn't see it as a disadvantage to go from one job to the next. It takes a lot to make some people understand that.