The only way to encourage more young people to graduate and get involved in STEM careers is by letting them know the opportunities out there. So what are you waiting for?
By Kara Kennedy (Executive Director, Lumity)
Do you remember the moment you decided what you were going to be when you grew up? I considered being a nurse (like my mom) or a salesman (like my dad) or an educator until finally settling on social work, based on a teacher’s suggestion.
In retrospect, I regret only exploring four career options, but I understand why it happened – I simply didn’t have exposure to many workplace settings or career alternatives.
Not Much Has Changed
Not surprisingly, the outlook for many of our nation’s young people is getting bleaker by the day. Consider the following statistics:
- If you are born into poverty today, you have a 42 percent chance of remaining in poverty for the rest of your life.
- Of the 30,000 freshmen who enter Chicago Public Schools each year, only about 2,400 will graduate from college.
- 78 percent of high school dropouts will be jobless by the time they are 24 years old.
Unfortunately, many students aren’t exposed to much more than I was 30 years ago, at least when it comes potential career paths.
If we want to increase the number of students graduating from college, it starts by engaging, exposing, inspiring and preparing them for their career possibilities.
Turning the Tide in STEM Careers
When my nonprofit organization, Lumity, stumbled into providing STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) experiential learning opportunities for students, discussions were focused on how we can encourage more technology professionals into teaching.
While educators are important, I don’t think our approach should be limited to beefing up the ranks of faculty.
When students engage with STEM professionals, they gain access to a full range of career opportunities. This access has enormous potential for increasing graduation rates by inspiring young people to pursue STEM vocations.
What Can You Do?
There are a number of ways businesses can get involved, and if you are a STEM professional, you have something to bring to the table. Try one of these five tips to get started:
1. Host a Career Site Visit
Work with a local teacher to host a group of students at your facility. Here in Chicago, we work with CDW, which recently led a group of 18 students through their warehouse and data center, framing the event around the concept of careers in technology.
The students were also exposed to the sales department, where they saw individuals working directly with customers and explored another side of the tech industry.
2. Speak to a Classroom of Students
Take your passion beyond the four walls of your office and into a local classroom. Schools frequently host career day fairs, and it’s a great chance to share your own experiences.
Tech experts Chandrika Shrinivasan and Anusha Challa of TATA Consultancy Services (TCS) both funded their own educations through tutoring services or scholarships. We partnered with the women to help them spend a morning with students at the Chicago Math and Science Academy sharing how they too can pursue careers in technology.
3. Solve Real-World Problems
Lumity also works with Accenture, which recently hosted 15 juniors and seniors to design an app targeting a problem in their school.
The students were put into teams of three and paired with digital marketing specialists, designers and project managers. Showing students how ideas work to solve real-world problems gets them excited to lend their talents to the industry and be part of something big.
4. Offer Summer Internships
Hire students to work alongside your team while they’re out of school for the summer. A meaningful internship gives students the opportunity to see what a career in STEM really looks like and teaches them the work ethic and communication skills required to succeed in the workplace. Your team will also benefit from the experience and the extra hands on deck.
5. Offer Incentives for Mentorship
Give your team the extra motivation to mentor a student interested in STEM. Allow flex time on Friday afternoons for skills-based volunteering or offer rewards for getting involved. Often, support from executives is the push employees need to get more involved in the local community.
Our communities need volunteers to engage and inspire students. By increasing students’ exposure to STEM careers, I believe that together, we can spark an interest, ignite a future and change young people’s lives by helping them envision a brighter future.