STEM Beats - October 2015

#PBW15: 9 Companies Making A Difference In STEM Education

October 29, 2015

To celebrate Pro Bono Week 2015, we rounded up a few of the stellar companies making a difference through skilled volunteering and pro bono work related to STEM education. One of the best ways to both engage employees in skills based volunteerism and connect with students around STEM is providing work-based learning opportunities, including classroom visits and company tours.

These experiences can spark awareness of and interest in STEM careers; give students first-hand exposure to STEM companies, workplaces and professionals; connect school learning to real-world STEM applications; and build the STEM skills that employers want. Additionally, providing opportunities for employees with skilled volunteering opportunities that allow them to engage meaningfully with students helps employers attract and retain the best talent.

Here are nine CTEq members that are making a difference through skills-based volunteering and work-based learning programs in STEM:

Chevron is a strategic partner for Techbridge Girls, a program that inspires girls to discover a passion for technology, science, and engineering. In addition to working with Techbridge to create and prepare hands-on STEM activities for program participants, Chevron employees have hosted 14 field trips for students to their California offices and provided more than 100 role models to inspire these girls in STEM.

Dow Chemical
Last year, Dow created the Dow STEM Ambassadors program, a group of 1,300 volunteers from offices around the world. The program connects Dow employees to students and teachers interested in STEM and gives them inspiring opportunities to share their knowledge and skills. The company is even partnering with the Smithsonian Science Education Center to develop instructional guides for STEM teachers.

IBM employees participate in a number of STEM mentoring activities – they were recently recognized by US2020 for their STEM mentorship efforts in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where a team of IBM employees volunteered to mentor sixth grade students in an engineering challenge to design a shipping container. Additionally, IBM employees have volunteered to mentor and judge inventions at their own Chicago Student Invention Convention every year since 2012.

Qualcomm employees get hands-on with STEM learning at Qcamp, a two-week summer camp for girls in California. The employees work with the campers on engineering projects, robo-crafts, and more. The students also get a chance to visit Qualcomm’s labs and offices – this year, the campers visited their Pacific Center Campus to learn about energy efficiency and checked out the Robotics Lab to learn more about technology and meet a Battlebots competition winner. 

Space Systems Loral
SSL also hosts students in their headquarters – employees teach them about the engineering and manufacturing processes that go into creating satellites. Employees participate in hands-on activities with students like building satellites out of recycled material or launching paper rockets. They also talk with students about how satellites and technology relate to their daily lives to help them see possibilities in future STEM careers.

To inspire students STEM, Symantec hosts tours in their state-of-the-art computer labs and data centers. Students have a chance to talk with employees to ask them about their jobs, giving them a great opportunity to learn about potential STEM careers. Additionally, Symantec partners with other STEM-focused organizations to further expand their education for students and bring more students on official tours. These company tours give Symantec employees a fun and meaningful way to volunteer and connect with students.

Texas Instruments
Texas Instruments employees participate in a variety of STEM volunteering projects across the country – for example, their engineers sponsor and coach students in Arizona for the FIRST Lego League competition. TI employees also partnered with engineers in Maine and volunteered as “engineering ambassadors” in local schools to teach students how engineers can make a difference in the world.

United Launch Alliance
United Launch Alliance also participates in a variety of STEM initiatives to engage and inspire students. They partner with nonprofits and school districts to bring fun and educational experiences with rocket science to students. One of these is their Student Rocket Launch program that they host with the Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corporation. This event simulates a real-life rocket launch campaign and inspires students to pursue careers in STEM.

Xerox employees have been providing hands-on learning experiences in classrooms for almost 50 years – today, they’re focused on building a diverse workforce for engineering. Their Xerox Science Consultant program emphasizes bridging gaps in STEM opportunities between affluent and urban schools. Visiting classrooms allows employees to work directly with students and get them excited about potential career paths in STEM. Xerox Science consultants also work with teachers to map out hands-on STEM activities for their students.

Bravo to these companies for making a difference through skills-based volunteering and work-based learning in STEM! These types of programs and initiatives are giving kids the kind of meaningful, real-world exposure to STEM jobs that can last a lifetime. Tell us how your company participates in pro bono on Twitter with the hashtag #PBW15! To learn more about work-based learning, and what your company can do, check out our employer’s guide.

Tags: Employee Engagement

Engaging Students—and Teachers—with Classroom Visits

October 26, 2015

This is the third in a series of blogs about work-based learning in STEM. Classroom visits are one of six types of employer-led learning activities highlighted in our employer’s guide to work-based learning.

Classroom visits are a tried-and-true way for STEM professionals to talk with young people about their work and careers. Now, with STEM talent in high demand, companies are becoming more deliberate in their efforts to make the most of classroom visits for students—and teachers.

Two Change the Equation member companies—Dow and Xerox—shared their evolving approaches to classroom visits with us. Here’s what we learned:

Connect classroom visits to core business priorities.
Building on decades of classroom visits, Dow last year created the Dow STEM Ambassadors program, which in less than a year is a 1,300-strong cadre of volunteers around the globe. The program creates a structure around employee volunteerism to better meet student, teacher, employee and corporate needs. “Ultimately, it’s about building the workforce of tomorrow,” says Dow’s Jaime Curtis-Fisk, STEM Education Program Leader and Formulation Scientist. “We want students in our communities to be college and career ready—prepared for whatever the next step beyond high school is for them.”

Building that workforce of tomorrow is a “K–career” endeavor, says Dow’s Meredith Morris, STEM Leader, Global Citizenship—and it also yields business benefits today. Engaging Dow employees in inspiring and preparing tomorrow’s employees is a powerful recruitment and retention strategy. “Studies show that employees, particularly employees just coming out of school, want to work at a company that they think is making positive social impacts on the world and on their communities,” Morris says. “We also see an opportunity to tell the Dow story to a captive audience of students, teachers and parents.” The Dow STEM Ambassadors program also will be a linchpin in the company’s corporate commitment to positively impact the lives of a billion people across the world over the next decade via employee engagement.

At Xerox, employees have been providing hands-on learning experiences in classrooms for almost 50 years, since “before STEM was STEM,” says Elissa Nesbitt, Manager of Community Relations and Communications, Xerox Foundation. The thrust then—and now—is building a diverse workforce for engineering. Today, the Xerox Science Consultant program puts greater emphasis on bridging gaps in STEM learning opportunities between affluent and urban schools.

The program syncs with a core Xerox mission of corporate citizenship and community engagement—and it enhances the company’s reputation in its communities. The program also draws new hires, particularly Millennials, in droves. “When you are trusted to take an hour or two during the day to give back to the community, you feel good about the company you work for,” Nesbitt says. “It makes you feel energized, and you may give a little bit more to that project you were working on.” At the same time, Xerox employees at all stages of their careers, even retired employees, visit classrooms.

Focus on student engagement, learning, and career awareness and preparation.
Classroom visits give Xerox an opportunity to put a different spin on the school curriculum. “Our mission isn’t to teach earth science or static electricity to improve test scores,” Nesbitt says. “We want students to understand the concept, how it applies to real life and how it may apply to their career one day. We couple that with a role model—some of these students may not have a scientist or an engineer in their family or in their neighborhood. We want kids to get excited about potential career paths and learning over all. That for us is what it’s all about.”

Likewise, the Dow program focuses first on sparking students’ interest in STEM learning. “If students have decided that math is too hard for them or science isn’t interesting, our first priority is to win them back over” by engaging them in hands-on science activities or experiments, says Dow’s Curtis-Fisk. Once their eyes light up, Dow STEM Ambassadors help to channel that excitement into learning STEM content and hard skills students need to be successful in college and careers.

“Particularly in the United States, we need talented individuals across the workforce pipeline—chemists, engineers, electricians, pipefitters, welders,” Dow’s Morris says. “We want to make sure we’re providing resources to students and to parents about what the next steps are education-wise and how that translates into a career.”

Align activities with the school curriculum and teacher needs.
Over the years, Xerox engineers and scientists have developed about 60 hands-on lesson plans and materials kits for classroom visits—all mapped to the local school curriculum. Every year, the company collaborates with local school district partners to review and update the lessons, which are geared to students in grades 3–6.

“We’ve learned to be flexible and read the needs of the school,” Nesbitt says. “We have a very well prepared group of volunteers. But it really comes down to, what do the school district and school and teacher need?” Xerox Science Consultants work with teachers to learn the progression of lessons throughout the school year and map out the classroom visits with hands-on activities to support the curriculum. Xerox consultants also help teachers prepare students beforehand with relevant vocabulary, for example, so they’re ready to engage in the activities. Those interactions can help teachers better understand science as well.

Similarly, classroom visits aren’t merely a “one and done” activity for Dow. The company is partnering with the Smithsonian Science Education Center to develop instructional modules on topics such as energy and chemical reactions. Teachers also can call on Dow STEM Ambassadors for follow-up assistance. Another Dow program, Teacher Partners, pairs teachers with a Dow “buddy” who provides expertise on science topics to teachers for their classroom instruction.

Amplify the impact by helping employees make the most of their volunteer time.
In the past year, Dow has added volunteer coordinators in Michigan, Louisiana and Texas, three states in which the company has a major presence. These coordinators handle the logistics of classroom visits and other volunteer activities, forge connections with schools and out-of-school organizations, and match employees with “best fit” volunteer opportunities. This infrastructure means “employees’ time and passion is spent working with students and teachers,” Curtis-Fisk says.

Track and measure results. Dow now tracks and monitors volunteer efforts more closely, just as it does for other business activities. This enables Dow to identify where employees and schools might need more support.

These types of programs from companies like Dow and Xerox are giving kids the kind of meaningful, real-world exposure to STEM jobs that can last a lifetime. To learn more about work-based learning, and what your company can do, check out our employer’s guide.

Tags: Employee Engagement, science, engineering

Minority Math Teacher Shortage

October 23, 2015

The population of students of color is growing, but many of those students don't have teachers who look like them.  Only 13 percent of public school math teachers are minorities -- a number we've got to change to make our schools more reflective of our overall population.

Source: Institute of Education Statistics, Digest of Education Statistics, 2013Institute of Education Sciences, The Condition of Education, 2015.

Tags: STEMtistics, teachers, math, minorities

Company Tours: Workplace Exposure Inspires Students to Say, “Wow! I Can Do This”

October 14, 2015

This is the second in a series of blogs on work-based learning in STEM. Company tours are one of six types of employer-led learning activities highlighted in our employer’s guide to work-based learning. 

You’d think that kids growing up in and around the Silicon Valley would have a natural window on the world of high-tech careers. For plenty of K–12 students, however, this hub of innovation might as well be on another planet. Disparity in learning opportunities for disadvantaged students, and for girls and young people of color who are underrepresented in STEM fields, is just as real here as anywhere.

Two of our member companies, Symantec and SSL (Space Systems Loral), are among those trying to change that. Both companies embrace work-based learning by welcoming students to their facilities for eye-opening company tours that showcase advanced technology and the skilled STEM professionals who create and produce it. Both companies are leveraging strategic partnerships with STEM-focused organizations to maximize their impact on students. 

Symantec, the world’s largest cybersecurity company, has been hosting formal tours for students in third grade through high school since 2008, and on an ad hoc basis before that. Students get to visit state-of-the-art computer labs and data centers, and talk with employees at the company’s Mountain View headquarters, as well as other company sites. One of the most popular activities is lunchtime in the cafeteria, where groups of four or five students like to pepper the Symantec employee at their table with questions about their work, educational preparation and career passions—a small-group interaction that both students and employees enjoy.

“We want kids to be exposed to a big array of jobs in the tech industry,” says Lora Phillips, director, corporate responsibility. “There’s the really cool technology, and tech jobs where really smart, cutting-edge researchers are working on trends in security, cybersecurity and data protection. But there are so many other things that people can do at this company. We want to open their eyes to a broader perspective. If they’re great writers, we’ll take them to meet the PR people and learn about telling the tech story. If they’re great with people, they talk with the HR team about how to build a very competitive base of employees.” 

For these tours and other K–12 STEM education programs, Symantec partners with organizations like Techbridge, an accomplished CTEq STEMworks program that inspires girls to discover a passion for technology, science and engineering. The company works closely with its partners to understand their goals for particular groups of students—and tailors the tours and the mix of learning activities to meet them. Symantec also tries to match employee volunteers with interests and skills that dovetail with those of students. “Finding that intersection between what the nonprofits are looking for and what our employees are looking for—that’s the sweet spot,” Phillips says.

Company tours give employees a fun and convenient way to volunteer, which is important to them, Phillips says. The tours also reflect a Symantec corporate responsibility goal of exciting, engaging and educating 1 million students in STEM education through global nonprofit partnerships, with an emphasis on computer science and cybersecurity, by 2020. 

At SSL, a leading commercial satellite designer and manufacturer, the enormous manufacturing area at the Palo Alto headquarters is the key attraction during company tours for K–12 students. The students get to see first-hand both huge, shiny, nearly completed satellites and satellites at different build and assembly stages. Employees share the engineering that goes into the components and the complex manufacturing process.

“The most important part of this for me is that students get to see that these engineers are just regular women and men, like people the students know,” says Alessandra Borgia, a propulsion engineer who leads the SSL STEM Outreach Team. “That resonates and they say, ‘Wow! I can do this.’” 

On the tours, employees engage students in a dialogue about how satellites relate to students’ daily life. “Satellites provide essential services that fuel growth and help everyone connect around the world,” Borgia says. Employees develop age-appropriate activities for tours as well, such as having younger students build their own satellites out of recycled material or launch paper rockets propelled by Alka-Seltzer® and water in a film canister.

Without a dedicated educational outreach staff, SSL has hosted company tours for schools and organizations that ask for them—including TechBridge. More recently, Borgia has reached out to explore collaborations with other organizations, including Society of Women Engineers, LISTAS (Latinas in STEM to Achieve Success) in the California Bay Area and the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics

For her, this effort is personal as well as professional. She earned her PhD in particle physics from a university department of 50 students, only a few of whom were women and minorities. “That’s really depressing and discouraging,” she says. “I don’t want that for our future. In general, we don’t see enough diversity.” So she is helping SSL target girls, underserved students and schools, and underrepresented young people in STEM fields. “That’s really the point of STEM outreach—to help people who don’t have an interface or experience with STEM,” she says.

These types of programs from companies like Symantec and SSL are giving kids the kind of meaningful, real-world exposure to STEM jobs that can last a lifetime. To learn more about work-based learning, and what your company can do, check out our employer’s guide.

Tags: technology, Employee Engagement, science

Can Arizona Seize the Future?

October 13, 2015

At a meeting of Arizona business leaders and other funders last week, a small group of Phoenix-area students stole the show. They described how participating in some of the nation's best STEM education programs--such as Project Lead the Way, FIRST Robotics, and Engineering is Elementary--had sparked their passion for STEM and changed their lives. Their achievements have earned them the jobs of Chief Science Officers from Arizona SciTech, a vast network of state science festivals. They are among the nation's most effective ambassadors for STEM.

If only their stories weren’t the exception to the rule in Arizona.

Young STEM enthusiasts in Arizona

Arizona stands out from other states in ways state leaders should find both very encouraging and deeply troubling. On the one hand, the state nearly tops the nation in the growth of STEM jobs. On the other, it ranks near the bottom in giving students opportunities to prepare for those jobs.

First, the good news: Arizona ranks fourth in the projected growth of STEM jobs over the next decade, and second in the projected growth of computing jobs. And Arizona, unlike the states that take the top spots on these measures, has a high concentration of STEM jobs to begin with.

Now the bad news: these jobs might go unfilled or migrate to other states if Arizona’s youth aren’t ready to do them. Arizona ranks 41st in the amount of time elementary schools devote to science, 46th in giving math and science teachers the resources they need, 46th in the percentage of afterschool opportunities that focus on STEM, and 50th in students’ access to teachers who majored in math. (For a more complete list of how the state stacks up, see our recent infographic.)

Yet Arizona has a secret—or perhaps not so secret—weapon. The state is rich in passionate STEM advocates and educators who have created some of the nation’s best STEM education programs. In fact, about one in ten programs in our STEMworks honor roll was home grown in Arizona, and most of those have also been singled out for praise by 100Kin10, an effort to strengthen the STEM teaching force. Those programs simply don’t reach enough Arizona children.

So here’s an equation that desperately needs changing: students lack STEM education opportunities in a state that expects to be a center for STEM jobs and is home to world-class STEM education programs. CTEq members like Freeport McMoRan and Intel have joined a handful of private foundations in the state to provide major support to such programs. Now, CTEq is working with them and other STEM advocates in the state to help spread those programs far and wide.

STEMworks programs have changed lives. Why should so few Arizona children have access to them?

Tags: STEMworks, jobs & workforce