Like many entrepreneurs, Naomi (Hemesath) Harm '99 has a sharp eye for opportunity. Since her days in Viterbo University's education program, she has been on the lookout for ways to improve the way we educate our children, particularly when it comes to STEM—science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
More than a decade ago, she founded Innovative Educator Consulting, and she was the sole proprietor to begin with. Now, she's the CEO (chief experience officer) of the company and has a platoon of expert educational consultants working with her.
In a recent interview from Cave Creek, Arizona, Harm talked about her journey from working as a nurse with three children to becoming a much honored and respected educational innovator who has given keynote addresses on excellence in education in such far flung places as France, Denmark, South Africa, and Dubai. One of her more recent distinctions came in 2020, when she was honored with a Viterbo Distinguished Alumni Award.
In the mid-1990s, Harm was in her mid-20s, well into a nursing career and considering getting into Viterbo's nursing program to become a registered nurse. Gearing up for that, she studied chemistry at Western Technical College and was named Chemistry Student of the Year.
She veered into Viterbo's education program, though, strongly encouraged to become a teacher in part because of her chemistry teacher's praise for her ability to explain things in class.
A class on computer basics at Viterbo taught by Gregg Hilker opened her eyes to the potential for technology to improve education, Harm said. "I was very inspired by him, by the way that he instructed the class through personalized learning choices in the technology projects, which allowed for so much creativity from each of us as students."
Back then, that two-credit class was the only educational technology training required for education majors. While it has improved, Harm said she believes so much more could be done, adding that she is ecstatic that Viterbo has added engineering and computer science programs to its offerings.
The things she learned in that class helped Harm see the potential in a new but little used computer lab at Bangor Elementary, where she did her student teaching and landed her first job in education.
“When I saw that room full of computers not being used, my questions were, 'Why not and what are the possibilities?'" Harm said. "I think that was the biggest thing for me. I saw it as a big beautiful opportunity.”
Within five years, Harm had become a teacher of teachers, hired as educational technology director at Cooperative Educational Service Agency #4, a regional organization that provides educational professional learning services and resources for school districts.
After seven years there, she encountered a word that lit her entrepreneurial fire: "No."
Harm was offered a chance to share her educational expertise with teachers in South Africa, but the CESA No. 4 administrator would not allow it.
“It’s almost like that ‘no’ that I was told made me say, ‘you know what, I’m going to just buck the system right now,” Harm said. “I always had the vision of something bigger and better. I’m very forward thinking. I’m a big picture thinker in everything I do.”
Although she also considered opening a bakery and cafe, she stayed with education and started her own consulting business, and any doubts she had about her choice were soon dispelled.
"I didn't miss a beat. I had so many calls, I was inundated with work," Harm said. "It was such a blessing."
In time, she was so busy she found herself wishing she could clone herself so she could fulfill all the requests for her expertise. She started assembling a team, largely recruited from teachers she saw in action whom she considered “game changers.” Her approach to working with them is illustrated by a hashtag she uses frequently on Twitter: #TogetherWeAreBetter.
"We have a team of professionals that have the credibility and are highly respected," Harm said. "Being part of a team means those individuals have an equitable say in the decisions we make. I get critical and genuine feedback. We're open and honest with one another."
While the global pandemic offers few bright spots, Harm sees one in the way it has forced more teachers to use technology in their instruction, possibly signaling the start of a transformative period.
“I truly believe it’s going to move the needle. I tell the teachers and administrators I talk to that now is our time to shine,” Harm said. “It’s the best opportunity for education as we know it to transform. There are traditional methods we know that are not working. It’s a lightbulb moment for many of our teachers.”
Over the years of running her own business, Harm has learned some important lessons about staying on top of her game. She makes sure to get plenty of sleep, she drinks at least 100 ounces of water per day (the brain is mostly water, she noted), and she makes a point of finding balance in her life and managing stress by starting each morning and ending each day with a gift of gratitude through reflecting on her day to document the learning accomplishments and improvements to work on the next day.
In her “spare time,” Harm is working on two books to be published in 2021. The Unique Individual You focuses on building women's leadership confidence, cognitive presence, and influence through mentorship stories and call to action items of how to lead with integrity while influencing others with one's positive genius. The other project, titled Discover the Unique Individual You, is a children’s rhyming picture book.
Harm deeply appreciates the lessons she learned at Viterbo that guide her as she runs her business and marches forward in her quest to improve education and lift up women in leadership.
“Basically, I’m grateful to Viterbo because that servant leadership model and the compassion and the humanitarian focus have been deeply grounded in me,” she said.