Nikki Navta is the founder and CEO of Zulama, a Pittsburgh-based edtech company that offers blended-learning coursework in game design to high schools. Zulama’s courses are used in more than 50 schools in the United States and internationally, including several high schools in Pittsburgh.
Nikki Navta: We just expanded our product line by releasing a set of Zulama short courses. Some of the titles are “Games From American History,” “Storytelling in Games,” and “Math Game Design.” They reflect the same educational experiences as our regular, semester-long courses, but they are designed to be completed in much less time.
The short courses are perfect for summer camps and after-school programs, and potentially will give us a chance to work with informal learning spaces, like Assemble here in Pittsburgh.
What are you most proud of?
As we expand into more schools, the diversity of students taking our courses is increasing. We’ve started receiving letters from students whose Zulama studies inspired them to pursue higher education opportunities that they never would have considered before. We’ve seen autistic students in Zulama courses getting so motivated to work on their games that they overcome socialization challenges and are thriving as leaders of their design teams.
What’s the toughest part about the work you do?
As an entrepreneur, no matter how productive I am on any given day there’s always more to accomplish. It’s hard to turn work off, but I’m learning how to take breaks. Seems simple, but it’s actually not that easy to get up and walk away from my desk and phone. The last few months my staff and I have started letting off steam and getting our creativity flowing during Taco Tuesday and game-playing lunches. There’s still a tiny element of work involved during those lunches, because we post reviews of the games we play on our blog—but that’s what we call “fun work!”
How have you connected with other members of the Remake Learning Network?
Almost every day we interact with someone in the network. Whether it’s interviewing a teacher or educator for our podcast, asking for advice on an education issue, or commiserating with one of my fellow edtech entrepreneurs about our successes (and failures), my staff and I tap into the Remake Learning community all the time.
In your mind, what makes a collaboration successful?
Humans are simple—a good collaboration needs to be a win-win situation with equal effort and equal benefit from and to both sides. One of the latest examples is my collaboration with Tom Lauwers from BirdBrain Technologies. He introduced Zulama to some of his favorite customers, and I did the same for him with our most innovative schools. Now those districts are using BirdBrain’s Hummingbird to introduce programming and robotics as well as Zulama for game design and advanced programming.
What’s your favorite thing to do in Pittsburgh on a Sunday afternoon?
In the springtime I enjoy tending my community garden plot. Summer is best for lounging outside, either with neighbors on our stoops, or at one of the dog-friendly outdoor cafes like the Beer Market on the North Shore. Fall is my favorite season. I usually go for a long run on Sundays, exploring different Pittsburgh neighborhoods and the wonderful riverfront trails.