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Volunteering at every career and life stage, even during a pandemic

by Melinda Guravich, STEM writer

Lynn Mortensen is passionate about getting kids engaged with STEM. “If we don’t show them what they can be, especially girls and minority children, they often don’t have a clue.”

 
While vice president of engineering at Raytheon, Lynn served as the company’s Tech Titans corporate representative. At retirement, she joined the newly formed STEM committee, committing her time and energy to inspiring a new generation of engineers from diverse backgrounds. She was recognized as one of Tech Titans’ 2019 Volunteers of the Year for her leadership of the popular annual STEM Video Contest sponsored by State Farm.
 
“There are too many kids out there who don’t think they could study or work in a STEM field,” she said. “We’re here to tell them: ‘Yes, you can!’”
 
“You should study math and science”
 
Many students simply don’t know who to ask about education and career paths.
 
Lynn can relate. As a kid she was often told “You should study math and science and become an engineer.” But at the time, she didn’t know any engineers. She researched careers and initially studied civil engineering, but with computers newly on the forefront, she switched to a new major, joining the second computer science graduating class at California State Polytechnic University - Pomona.  
 
“During STEM events we tell students that by the time they enter college, there will be new majors that don’t exist today. I experienced that with computer science. Bioengineering and nanotechnology are now degree programs. Who knows what it will be next?” she said.
 
What volunteering looks like at different career and life stages
 
Early career: When working and raising a family, there are significant time constraints. “During that time in my career, it was easiest to volunteer for company-sponsored events. I often bought my kids along,” said Lynn.
 
Mid-to-late career: “When my kids were older and I was in a more senior position, I was able to bring new programs into Raytheon and participate in outside activities.”
 
Leadership: In a leadership role, you’re in a position to do more. Tech Titans board leaders involve their companies. Their employees have an opportunity to participate in programs like STEM panels and speed mentoring. “It’s a great way to expand your company’s outreach as well as your own,” she said.

Retirement: It’s valuable to show students that a STEM career can offer a lifetime of doing what you are passionate about. That can mean having a long career and then retiring or continuing working in new capacities, because the field is so varied.
 
“When you are transitioning from the active workforce to retirement, there are lots of opportunities to give back,” Lynn said.
 
STEM volunteer opportunities during COVID-19 uncertainty
 
STEM initiative programs are being built virtually, making it easier than ever to volunteer. For example, career panels are now virtual, minimizing volunteer time commitments by eliminating travel.
 
Members can also volunteer behind the scenes, using their skills to help get more STEM programming online. With kids likely to be participating in virtual schooling, widely varied programming will help them learn.
 
For this year’s STEM Video Contest, the team is creating resources for parents to get them excited about the contest and increasing outreach to educators. “With more virtual programming, the video contest can be incorporated into their curriculums.”
 
You don’t have to be a technical whiz to help promote STEM career outreach. “There are many opportunities, including sharing how to move into the workplace and your own experience working in a tech-focused environment,” she added.
 
Volunteering builds relationships
 
Developing professional and personal relationships is an added bonus of working on this initiative with team members. “We have a shared goal: helping our community,” said Lynn. Several have become friends.
 
She’s also found it to be an opportunity to meet people from smaller and medium-sized companies who joined the team. “I might not have known about their companies otherwise, let alone have met them.”
 
Some of the students Lynn encountered in the course of volunteering are now in college and out of school. She loves hearing from them and about their successes. “Seeing how they’ve excelled and grown up to be wonderful adults is incredible.”
 
“That’s why we volunteer. We help them make good choices.”
 
Ready to get involved? Contact Dave Galley at dave@techtitans.org.

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