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Imaginative Programs + Caring Mentors = Sparking STEM Interest in Underserved Youth

Created: 03 Sep 2013 • Updated: 06 Sep 2013
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In its fiscal year 2013, Symantec contributed more than $24 million in cash and software to nonprofits working within its four philanthropic focus areas: science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education; online safety; diversity; and environmental responsibility. Over the next few weeks, we will hear from several of our partners on various projects and programs that Symantec is helping to support. Last week, we heard from Acterra, an environmental nonprofit serving Silicon Valley, and today we hear from Edwin Link, Sr. Director of Academic Success, Arts, and Innovation at the Boys & Girls Clubs of America.

 

Ask a kindergarten class if they like science and all kids will raise their hands. Then, ask a sixth-grade class if they like science. The number of hands raised will decrease greatly—especially the girls’. Interestingly enough, ask the same sixth-grade class if they’d like to save the environment and the majority of girls will now raise their hands.

Why is the diminishing interest in science occurring in young women, yet the underlying interest in science-related activities remains? I hope that my incredibly curious five-year-old daughter never loses interest in science as she gets older. Unfortunately, our society is one in which minorities—particularly women—are underrepresented in STEM fields. How can we help reverse this trend and encourage the growth of a qualified, diverse workforce in STEM-related fields? 

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Societal Disconnect: STEM Job Growth and the Underprepared Workforce

Nearly all 30 of the fastest-growing occupations will require some education and experience in STEM, and by 2018, 1.2 million U.S. jobs will be available in STEM-related fields, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. However, when polled, only 14.5 percent of female students expressed an interest in STEM compared to 39.6 percent of male students. And since the graduating class of 2000, African-Americans interested in STEM majors/careers have dropped 30 percent (myCollegeOptions and STEMconnector). The stark reality is that Americans, particularly underrepresented minorities, will be largely unprepared to secure these positions, putting our nation at-risk of losing competitive ground in the global economy.

Out-of-School Programs' Role in Igniting STEM Interest

Research proves that out-of-school programs, like those offered at Boys & Girls Clubs, are most effective in stimulating interest in STEM-related careers. Today, more than 4,000 Boys & Girls Clubs serve nearly 4 million young people, particularly underserved youth, and enable them to achieve great futures. By partnering with technology leaders like Symantec, Boys & Girls Clubs of America (BGCA) is engaging underserved youth, including young women and minorities, in hands-on, project-based learning experiences that foster interest and exploration in STEM careers.

As the new school year begins, more youth will have the opportunity to learn about STEM during after-school hours thanks to the partnership between Symantec and BGCA. Through generous grants from Symantec, ten Boys & Girls Clubs will each receive a $7,500 grant to enhance STEM-related programming—from robotics to game design—and increase the number of youth engaged in STEM within their communities.

Success Story: SySTEMic Learning at Boys & Girls Clubs of Venice

One grant recipient, Boys & Girls Clubs of Venice in California, will be able to increase and enhance their high-quality STEM programming to 500 Club members—ages 6 to 17. Some of the inventive programs at Boys & Girls Clubs of Venice include:

  • Cyber Security – CyberPatriot, the premier national high school cyber defense competition, gives hands-on exposure to the foundations of cyber security.
  • Robotics – Club members are introduced to engineering through a partnership with FIRST Robotics for the FIRST Lego League and FIRST Robotics Challenge.
  • Underwater Robotics – Yes, underwater robotics! This pilot project uses underwater robots to teach STEM and prepare students for technical careers.
  • NASA’s B.E.S.T. Program – In partnership with NASA and the Los Angeles Unified School District's Beyond The Bell program, this unique program brings engineering principles to younger audiences.
  • Audio Engineering – Club members learn various elements of audio engineering, such as music production and vocal recording.

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Hope for the Future

Thanks to the support of partners like Symantec, Venice and other innovative Clubs are able to lessen the STEM learning divide for deserving, yet underserved youth. It takes imaginative programming and caring mentors to spark interest in STEM in young adults, especially underrepresented minorities. BGCA’s goal is to teach talented kids how to make technology—rather than just consume it—and prepare our members for successful 21st century careers.

Maybe there’s hope for my daughter in STEM in the future.

 

Edwin Link is Senior Director, Academic Success, Arts, and Innovation for the Boys & Girls Clubs of America.