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Effective Community Partnerships Increase the Value of STEM Outreach & CSR

Businesses know the value of Corporate Social Responsibility, and many are turning to STEM education as a philanthropic effort. These efforts are justifiable, warranted and in high demand. Our young scholars need to see themselves in STEM and need effective role models and mentors to do so. One successful effort is partnering with existing community groups working with youth. This creates a fast on-ramp to assist those that need us most.

Are You Going to “Do” or “Donate?”
An early decision is whether you are a cadre of volunteers aiming to inspire, or you will
financially support a group. Either is helpful, but which route you choose really depends on the level of involvement you wish to take. Financial donations are the lifeblood of any non-profit. Few organizations are fully funded, self-sufficient and without need. That said, few of the participants- the youth we seek to inspire- will directly benefit from a check. They will have more “things” and their program will thrive (clearly good), but still may lack the role models and resources that drive a student into STEM. Often, donation of material is more impactful in the near term. There are things we take for granted that are magical for a community group helping students, such as markers, Legos, scrap parts from tech products, even tools. Apart from donating money or materials, donating volunteer time with real-life engineers, scientists and others working in a tech environment, is when students begin to see themselves in that world. Of equal importance is bringing in non-traditional fields in tech. Students need to see that graphic artists, photographers, writers, lawyers, and others all play a critical role in our tech companies’ success. Partner groups can share their student’s demographics and interests and we can tailor the speaker to fit.

Forming Community Partnerships
Groups already working with youth in their community provide a ready audience. They are
often doing inspiring work in STEM; we amplify and reinforce their message. We make it real with our experience and connections. The group is a captive audience already in the mindset to learn and experience STEM. For the volunteers, be sure and find what resonates with your mission. Thinking about what feels important and what will interest the employee base will engender success. Think about your area of focus, for instance, the Latinx community, or girls in engineering, or even sports programs. STEM outreach is applicable anywhere, particularly when you can tie it to what the group is focused on, and what your company does. Work with the community group leaders to hear what they believe will most help the young people in their group. We “meet them where they are” in both skill sets and passions. This means considering their personal stories, as well as their academic journey. One highly successful example is hosting a panel discussion for first–generation college going students where the panelists are all first-gen employees. Relatable, open and honest conversations are how we make our tech world feel reachable for everyone. These discussions feel “real” when they are genuine and present a similar journey.

What Can You Provide?
Your people and your network are your biggest assets for these groups. That is how we inspire and show young scholars the opportunities STEM provides. We bring in employees, talk about careers and bring them to our offices so they see the work environment. After that, we branch out. What are the student’s dreams? Who do we know doing that work? Can we tap our network and bring in mentor figures from other professions? Let’s consider the community group providing academic support within a sports league. We can inspire students about careers tangential to playing their sport, still providing a job in the sports arena. We show them video production, podcasting, sports writing and sports marketing agents. Suddenly, they see there’s a “Plan B” should they not make the big leagues. It’s our network that lets us find those other professions and use them to inspire.

A Network of Networks
What is an ideal outcome when we start working with community groups inspiring youth? The network grows, overlaps and we begin to affect change. The community groups find additional commonalities and ways to bolster each other’s mission. We find ways to tap further into the networks and they help each other. We use our connections to continue to inspire students and, if we all do this, and we do it right, we begin to see more students entering STEM, feeling seen by the tech industry, finding a sense they belong, and remaining in the STEM fields. In all we provide a mirror allowing students to see themselves in a STEM future, and an open door with plenty of opportunities that they can choose from to follow their dreams and passions.

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