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The Talent Team strikes back: STEM inspirations go digital

by Melinda Guravich, Tech Titans contributor

Dave Galley, director of the STEM workforce initiatives for Tech Titans, was looking forward to the Talent Team’s biggest year yet in 2020: more events scheduled, in more schools for more kids and the launch of new events, all powered by a growing volunteer base and committed corporate sponsors.

By the first week of March, volunteers had already logged a thousand-plus STEM inspirations for the year, for a total of nearly 15,000 since the initiative began. Numerous spring and summer dates were on the calendar for panels, hands-on engineering design challenges and speed mentoring events.

And then, COVID-19 struck. Schools closed. Students were suddenly learning from home.

Protecting the STEM inspiration curve

“We agreed as a team that we had to protect the inspiration curve,” said Dave. “Doing nothing was not an option.” Talent Team vice chair Lisa Frey and Bob Hill, immediate past vice chair, were equally determined to keep the popular STEM programs afloat and help students remain engaged. Just a few weeks later, with multiple logistical and technical hurdles overcome, the team was ready to go.

Its first virtual Diversity in Engineering panel took place in May, with panelists using Cisco’s WebEx technology. Additional panels are scheduled for students enrolled in UT Dallas virtual coding camps this summer.

“We took advantage of our advantages,” said Dave, referring to the committee’s teamwork, camaraderie and track record with school district administrators and teachers. “We couldn’t have done it without our partners at RISD and with the superintendent’s office leading the charge, particularly Jeannie Stone and Tabitha Branum.”

New programs address new paradigms

The new STEM Challenge Question of the Week activity was created to help address food insecurity experienced by many students and their families and exacerbated by job losses. Students learn about STEM topics and have the opportunity to earn gift cards based on their responses.

During the last three weeks of the school year, Tech Titans awarded 49 students with $50 Walmart gift cards, thanks to forward-looking sponsors State Farm, DTCC and Qorvo.

The program has both sponsor and volunteer support to continue during summer school, with increased participation anticipated this fall.

What’s ahead?
“We’re staying flexible,” said Dave. The committee is prepared to provide STEM inspiration for different scenarios in the fall. And sensitive to the concerns of schools as well as volunteers. Virtual panels are an opportunity to expand our geographic reach,” said Dave. “Panelists can participate from anywhere.”

That path includes providing additional tools and resources that may be needed for this year’s STEM video contest. For example, guidance for students (and parents) if the videos will be made at home this year.

The committee is looking at how to offer more of its popular face-to-face opportunities online, like speed mentoring and engineering design exercises. Work is also underway to offer expanded STEM career educational events for school counselors. 

Adding virtual capability presents an opportunity to expand the footprint of the STEM initiative.  “We’ve strengthened our teamwork, camaraderie and increased the tribal knowledge we need to move forward,” said Dave. 
 
Looking for an opportunity to inspire STEM education and pathways? Get involved as a volunteer judge, panelist or STEM Challenge sponsor. Dave Galley can be reached at dave@techtitans.org.

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