I have the privilege to work in my hometown of Lebanon, Virginia, at CGI’s Southwest Virginia Onshore Delivery Center. Many of my high school friends moved away from Lebanon, pursuing careers in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields. However, when CGI came to Lebanon in 2007, some of my old friends and I returned to take advantage of this new career opportunity.
Unfortunately, there are not a lot of opportunities in our community for students to learn skills to prepare them for technology careers. As not only a technologist but also as the mom of a teenage daughter, I felt compelled to do something.
Getting students involved in STEM
As part of its STEM@CGI program, CGI is working with local educational organizations in Lebanon and other communities to help students build IT skills. This program includes mentoring students who take part in the nationwide Congressional App Challenge.
The challenge engages students’ creativity and encourages their participation in STEM education. High school students from across the country compete against their peers in developing and exhibiting software applications. Participation in the challenge has grown rapidly, reaching underserved, diverse and rural student populations.
When Fabian Owens, CGI Federal’s operational lead here at the Southwest Virginia center approached me last year about heading up the local Congressional App Challenge mentorship effort, I had an epiphany. I have lived here since I was a child, so I have seen the impact CGI has had on the community.
CGI has revitalized a community challenged by the loss of agriculture and coal jobs, and our desire is to extend this support to local high schools by exposing students to technology, coding and application development. This type of work not only has a positive impact on our local students, but also increases the talent pipeline for our Southwest Virginia center.
I agreed to coordinate CGI’s 2018 Congressional App mentorship effort in southwest Virginia, collaborating with our local schools. CGI’s role was to advise and prepare 50 high school students, divided into 13 teams, here in Lebanon and at our center in Lafayette, Louisiana. Software developer Tim Andrie took the lead in Lafayette, while I headed it up in Lebanon. Together, we enlisted the aid of 11 more colleagues to help guide the students.
We provided students with resources, taught them how to code, explained the software development life cycle, and guided them through common development issues. Of these student teams, one from Lebanon High School won the challenge for Virginia’s ninth congressional district.
These three students received VIP treatment at the Congressional App Challenge’s prestigious #HouseOfCode event in May of 2019. CGI U.S. President Dave Henderson, CGI Federal Vice President William LaBar and the students’ mentor Todd Jones joined me in supporting the team as they demonstrated their app on Capitol Hill. Our students were among 425 other students from 130 congressional districts across 44 states.
Expanding participation nationwide
Expanding the program across CGI could have a national effect upon students typically underrepresented in STEM fields. If each CGI office in the U.S. sponsored and mentored one team of students for the Congressional App Challenge, then CGI could influence the lives of 250 more students.
To begin this expansion, I submitted a proposal to CGI’s Dream Connectors program, a global CGI initiative that supports members who are making a difference in our communities. Members submit ideas and selected projects receive CGI support, such as access to technology, member volunteers and funding. My proposal became a Dream Connectors project for 2019, which allowed us to expand and enhance our work in the Congressional App Challenge.
Generating positive outcomes
Now that the 2019 Congressional App Challenge efforts are complete and all our student teams have submitted their apps, I can take a moment to sit back and reflect. This year CGI had 17 mentors and was able to support almost double the number of students from 2018.
Working with our local high school students and enabling STEM education in smaller communities is the most rewarding aspect of coordinating the CGI's Congressional App Challenge program, and one of my favorite things about working at CGI. I can already see a difference just in the last two years within the local communities we serve. Local schoolteachers, for example, are reaching out, asking CGI to help with high-tech education and student mentoring.
CGI also hired two of our local 2018 Congressional App Challenge winners as CGI Federal High School interns over the summer in 2019. Both want to return to CGI upon graduation. It humbles me to think that one day these students, and others we have mentored, may be my work colleagues, and I would be eager to have them on my team.
To learn more about STEM@CGI, visit the program’s page.