Since the inception of STEM@CGI, our goal has been to meet the needs of students underrepresented in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education, and to help them prepare for these careers, which are in high demand. Students with disabilities, girls, minorities, and the economically underserved often don’t have equal access to STEM education. Sometimes this is because of lack of access to good STEM programs in schools, and sometimes it is the lingering effect of systemic discrimination. It takes intentional solutions to overcome these circumstances—which can be even more challenging during the pandemic—and to help build the diverse and inclusive STEM workforce of the future.
By becoming involved with community partners who work with the students we strive to reach through STEM@CGI, we have been able to serve thousands of K-12 students nationwide. Many CGI professionals volunteer their time for this important work—introducing students to STEM education, while mentoring and inspiring them to reach for the future. As 2020 kicked off, we began planning our STEM events. It was shaping up to be an exciting year of in-person camps, clubs and other STEM related activities.
Then as COVID-19 began to spread worldwide early this year, it brought a new set of challenges as parents and children needed to work and learn from home. We had to cancel or postpone all in-person STEM@CGI events for the indefinite future and find new ways to keep children engaged and interested while accessing our programming from home. We knew the STEM@CGI program would need to adapt to continue providing value and opportunities to students, community partners, parents, and our professionals.
As the STEM@CGI Administrative Coordinator, I experienced first-hand the challenges for families with school-aged kids as I worked from home. I wanted to keep my children engaged in meaningful activities, but I had my own work at the same time. As I started working on how to bring our STEM@CGI work online, my own home gave me the solution. My sons became my new coworkers, working with me to test STEM activities and lessons, providing feedback on interest and design, and of course, starring in the photos for our newly created materials. I was no longer just their mother—I became their new teacher.
As it happens, STEM@CGI Manager Anne Swanson and our STEM@CGI program sponsor, CGI Vice President Will LaBar, had long wanted to create an online model of STEM@CGI. As often happens, though, there were also more pressing tasks that pushed that goal to the back burner. COVID-19 changed the priorities, pushing development of an online version to the top of the list.
We worked together to create “STEM@CGI at Home” featuring an online resource page that releases content weekly. Creating live virtual delivery methods for STEM mentorship and events soon became imperative.
Many of our community STEM@CGI site leads across the country began to work with community partners to create remote learning activities. With virtual programs in Pittsburgh, Los Angeles and Lafayette, we were able to bring together a new aspect of STEM learning by using the same partnership model that keeps us connected to students across the U.S. This meant asking our education partners what they needed to serve their students. In some instances, this also has meant providing laptops to students. In others, we have created video content for public access TV stations to reach students who do not have internet access. Often, it has meant giving guidance to partners on how to create programming using the STEM@CGI materials. In all instances, we strive to meet students wherever they are, using technology to help bridge the digital divide and build the workforce of the future.
During the quarantine, there is no choosing between parenting and working. There were many days where these new dynamics produced challenges. I’m sure many parents have shared that sentiment. Nevertheless, a sense of gratitude always brought us together. We should always feel good about our mission to provide necessary opportunities to children across the country.
It has been a true joy to create a new space and to support new methods for learning and development. I see this as a big step forward. We reinvented our delivery, while remaining true to the heart and soul of our STEM@CGI mission. We aspire to continue to grow and develop new ways of reaching students. This underscores our commitment to our mission, our dedication to continued learning, and expands our reach. Knowing that we are doing our part to continue to reach students, engaging my three sons while increasing our reach and supporting our community, is by far, more than I could ask for under any circumstance.
To learn more about our STEM@CGI mission, watch this video.