STEM Beats - Employee Engagement

Mock Interviews Give Students Practice—and Hope—for Future Careers

January 28, 2016

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

Interviewing for a job can make even seasoned professionals go wobbly at the knees. Given the high stakes, every bit of preparation helps—and an early start well before students go after their dream jobs can make a difference in their career paths. 

Two of our member companies, 3M and The Depository Trust & Clearing Corporation (DTCC), are among those that provide that leg up with mock interviews, which give high school students a reason to think about what they offer to prospective employers, present themselves and articulate their strengths, and learn about STEM careers and how to prepare for them.

At 3M, more than 120 employee volunteers conduct 430 mock interviews every year at Harding and Johnson senior high schools in the St. Paul (MN) Public Schools, a longtime district partner. Mock interviews are the capstone to an e-mentors program, in which 3M employees support students via email as part of their postsecondary preparation coursework, according to 3M’s Anne Seaquist, manager, volunteer initiatives.

“It’s a chance for high school students to go through an actual interview format, which might be completely new to them,” says Matthew Ladhoff, diversity and education specialist at 3Mgives. “At the end of the interview, there’s a chance for an informal Q&A to really get an understanding of what it takes to go through that high school process and go through college.”

Ladhoff is one of many 3M “near peers”—recent college graduates—who conduct mock interviews, which are open to the entire student bodies of the two high schools. Students prepare in advance by developing resumes, cover letters and portfolios of their work in class. While their level of preparation varies, most students dress up for the 30-minute interviews. To Ladhoff, this indicates how seriously the students, most of whom are economically disadvantaged, take this opportunity.

Students particularly enjoy the informal Q&A. “Some students ask very insightful, engaging questions, with follow-up questions,” Ladhoff says. “They’re ready to talk about which colleges they’re looking to attend. They want to know about college, how to get a job, how to go through interviews. They want to know how that young professional got to where they are.”

3M, which has offered the mock interviews for 10 years, sees business benefits from employee volunteerism. Recently, a company survey of employees revealed that those who had volunteered were more likely to recommend a friend to 3M. “This speaks volumes to the fact that employees who are getting more deeply engaged in the resources the company is providing have higher retention rates, more fulfilling jobs and careers, and are happier,” says Jacqueline Berry, global communications manager, 3Mgives. Mock interviews also align with 3M leadership behaviors, such as developing self and others (professional development).

Mock Interviews with a Twist
DTCC began providing mock interviews more recently, partnering with both national and local organizations in Tampa, Boston and New York City and adjusting the format to meet student needs.

In Tampa, participating in the DTCC Toastmasters club—part of the international organization that supports communication and leadership development—sparked the interest of a women-led group of employees in giving back to the community in partnership with the club. To support their initiative, DTCC partnered with United Way Suncoast, a charitable organization serving the Tampa Bay area. That organization established a relationship between DTCC and the Hillsborough County (FL) Children and Youth Services Program, which identified a high-need group of high school students in its foster care program.

DTCC employee volunteers used a Toastmasters youth leadership curriculum to work with these students for two hours every week at their school, engaging them in topics ranging from communication to career tracks to understanding the business world. Then, students came to DTCC’s Tampa offices for “Student Professional Readiness Day,” a pilot program held for the first time in October 2015.

“Our employee volunteers built a one-day agenda to tell a career story and provide a broader perspective on how to prepare for a career, what careers are available at DTCC and what type of training you need for them,” says DTCC’s Marie Chinnici-Everitt, managing director and chief marketing officer, DTCC Tampa site lead, and vice chair of the Diversity and Inclusion Council.

Employees acted out “good” and “bad” interviews, with one employee taking on the role of the interviewer and two others playing the job candidates. Then, employees led small-group discussions with students to identify good and bad interview behaviors and answers and determine the best candidate to hire. “Of course the bad interview was fun for them,” Chinnici-Everitt says. “It was light and serious at the same time. Mock interviews support student engagement and learning about STEM subjects and careers by demonstrating interview best practices and preparing students for what interviewers are currently looking for in the workplace. It stresses to the students the importance of being prepared, professional, working in teams and impromptu speaking as they may get asked questions they have not prepared for.

“Most importantly for the population we worked with,” Chinnici-Everitt adds, “it gave them hope. It gave them exposure to the workplace and to careers they would not have had otherwise.”

For their part, employees have been very excited to develop a meaningful program. “The skills piece is huge,” Chinnici-Everitt says. “The employees involved in developing the curriculum and executing it got a lot of experience with communication, mentoring, openness and expanding their horizons.”

The Tampa initiative builds on outreach in other cities where DTCC has a presence. In New York City, DTCC partners with PENCIL, an organization that works with businesses to identify their capacity and interests, align them with student and school needs, and find the best entry points for engagement to improve student and school performance and enhance workforce pathways. In 2014, PENCIL established a relationship between DTCC and the Lower East Side Preparatory High School in Manhattan. Since then, DTCC employee volunteers have met bi-monthly with students there to support their college and career readiness. As part of this partnership, DTCC employees offer both mock interviews and, as in Tampa, skits of “good” and “bad” interviews.

In Boston and New York City, DTCC also partners with Year Up, an organization that connects young people with companies that need talent. Programs in both cities offer financial operations, IT, and sales and customer support tracks for students; New York City also has digital marketing and anti-money laundering tracks. Last year, DTCC employee volunteers in both cities played the role of interviewer for Year Up students, providing feedback to help sharpen their interviewing skills and confidence in those STEM fields.

Tags: Employee Engagement

Honoring the Spirit of Service

January 21, 2016

Earlier this week, Americans marked Martin Luther King Day through volunteer service, celebrating King’s vision of creating a “Beloved Community.”   Many demonstrated their personal commitment to service as individuals, families, and groups, helping develop healthy, strong communities. 

Dr. King’s vision of the beloved community is a realistic achievable goal that can be attained by addressing the triple evils of poverty, racism, and militarism, by implementing his 6 steps of non-violent social change that include information gathering; education; personal commitment; discussion/negotiation; direct action; and reconciliation.  In 2016, Change the Equation is honoring that spirit by encouraging our corporate members to advance service through skills-based volunteering in K-12 STEM – and we can help you!

Corporate focus on K-12 STEM employee volunteerism is one way to advance the development of the “Beloved Community” that Dr. King so fervently sought to create. It produces an infrastructure for the long-term success of the community, while building the U.S. workforce.  In particular, skills-based volunteering can provide low-income and minority students, who may have limited knowledge of STEM careers, access to professionals who can support student development of professional identity while introducing a career pathway that can lead one from poverty to the middle class.  

Companies can seize opportunities to expose students to specific STEM industry needs early.  Capturing interest in specific careers gives companies the opportunity to develop workplace skills in students at interest onset and the advantage in recruiting and retaining employees in competitive labor markets.

Thirteen Change the Equation members have made the commitment to a collective 14,000 days of skills-based volunteering in 2016.  And we invite more companies to join them by participating in CTEq’s skills-based volunteer matching network, matching STEM professional volunteers with schools throughout the U.S. 

Participating CTEq members:

Learn how your company employees can participate in skills-based volunteering. Contact: Buffy DeBreaux-Watts to get started. 

Tags: Employee Engagement

At Lockheed Martin, High School Internships Take Flight from a Rigorous Engineering Curriculum

January 5, 2016

This is the fourth in a series of blogs on work-based learning in STEM. High school internships are one of several types of employer-led learning activities highlighted in our employer’s guide to work-based learning.

Last spring, a young man working at Lockheed Martin’s Aeronautics business completed an important assignment—setting up a worldwide tracking system for the many different technical systems and processes used to design and produce aircraft.

Not so unusual, perhaps—except that the young man rose to this challenge as a high school senior, one of five aspiring engineers in Lockheed Martin’s inaugural class of high school interns. From September to May, they worked two afternoons a week as paid interns at the company’s Fort Worth facilities. At a year-end graduation ceremony, Lockheed Martin awarded them certificates and $1,000 college scholarships to the schools of their choice.

All five interns are now first-year college students majoring in engineering, three at the University of Texas at Arlington, two at Texas A&M, which happen to be favorable stomping grounds for Lockheed Martin recruiters. Every summer, Lockheed Martin will welcome these students back as paid college interns—and send them off to school again every fall with another $1,000 scholarship. This year’s second class of 13 high school interns will have the same opportunities, as will many more as the program scales up.

Picking the Right Partners
Launching this high school internship program “has probably been the most significant community outreach that we have ever done from a business perspective,” says Lockheed Martin’s Norm Robbins, senior manager of community relations. “It not only is great for the students and community, but it impacts our business very, very positively. So I’m extremely encouraged that we can grow this over time into something that will really be a significant contributor to the talent that we need to have going forward.”

The unusual high school internship program illustrates the value of strategic partnerships. “The Arlington [TX] Independent School District approached us and said, ‘Hey, have you ever considered a high school internship program for engineering students?’” Robbins says. “And we said, ‘No, but we need to hire tens of thousands of new scientists and engineers in the next five or 10 years, so we’re very interested.’”

The idea germinated from there. The district has a very well defined and robust Project Lead The Way (PLTW) program, an exemplary, ready-to-scale STEM program that has cleared Change the Equation’s very high STEMworks bar to quality. “That is the determining factor and the discriminator for us,” Robbins says. “Our corporation has invested a lot of money in Project Lead The Way and we’re in the process of expanding it across the nation where we have a significant presence.”

By the time Arlington intern candidates are seniors, they’ve completed at least two or three years of the PLTW engineering curriculum—and they are very keen on engineering. Even so, high school internships were a new bailiwick for Lockheed Martin. The company spent months planning the competitive internships with PLTW and the district—“a phenomenal partner,” Robbins says.

“Contributing Right from the Get-Go”
In school, as part of the engineering curriculum, students create resumes, practice interviewing, learn how to behave in the workplace, and “how to have all the kinds of skills that you would want somebody to have that you’re going to employ,” Robbins says. The first five interns were deployed in Lockheed Martin’s technical operations, which design advanced, high-performing aircraft. Some of this year’s 13 interns are also working in a factory setting in production operations. Next year’s interns might be working on the Lockheed Martin’s largest program, the F-35 fighter jet.

“So they’re getting extremely meaningful experiences doing very significant work” in key business areas, Robbins says. The first five interns “significantly contributed to our business needs right from the get-go,” working on engineering projects for business units responsible for:

  • Technical systems
  • Technical displays, including designing workspaces for pilots of unmanned vehicles and radar systems
  • Stress testing and corrosion testing of aircraft in the materials and process lab and chemical lab
  • Flight simulation for pilot training
  • Developing flight operations software for life support systems in aircraft cockpits

All five students completed their internships with flying colors, impressing their supervisors. In the words of a supervisor, one intern “had a critical design review with one of our top experts in database design. This checkpoint validates his design and demonstrates the competency of his growing engineering expertise. He continues to perform at a level far beyond the expectation of a high school senior. He not only demonstrates strong analytical skills, but combines them with personal initiative and strong interpersonal skills.”

Imagine heading off to college with that recommendation and experience! “They’ll just be head and shoulders above their peers in college,” Robbins says. With the continuing relationship and work experience with Lockheed Martin, “that’ll just get accentuated through each year they progress through college. By the time they do graduate, they’re pretty much assured that they want to be here and we’re pretty much assured that we want them to be here. So it’s just a real positive program all the way around.”

Tags: Employee Engagement, engineering, STEMworks

#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