Great Minds in STEM
The organization's STEM-Up! education programs are flourishing under a DoD contract administered by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
This twenty-second conference and awards ceremony had something for everyone
In the fall of 2009, the former Hispanic Engineer National Achievement Awards Conference (HENAAC) organization announced a new name, Great Minds in STEM (GMiS), and a broadened mission. "We needed to create an umbrella to encompass our dual role as an educational and a recognition/recruitment organization," explains HENAAC founder and GMiS CEO Ray Mellado.
The annual conference is an opportunity for recognition, job hunting at the day-long career fair, and plenty of networking. The 2010 conference was held at the Disney Coronado Springs Resort in Orlando, FL. Diversity/Careers editor in chief Kate Colborn attended and enjoyed reconnecting with familiar faces, including Sol Fontanes, an industrial engineer with the Walt Disney World Resort, where the conference took place. Fontanes was profiled in the magazine in 2005, and has kept in touch.
The society was founded in 1989 as a recognition and recruitment vehicle specifically for Hispanic engineers. In recent years it has taken on an increasing role in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education, and reached out to a variety of demographic groups that tend to miss out on early exposure to STEM topics. This broadened mission was a major topic of discussion at this latest conference.
STEM-Up reports on its pilot year
Along with the name change came the launch of an ambitious new project. STEM-Up is a program funded under a U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) contract administered by the Los Angeles office of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. It finished its pilot year of implementation at the end of the 2009-10 school year.
The overall goal of the program is to increase the number of underrepresented minorities opting for careers in STEM disciplines through intensive hands-on interaction among professionals, students, parents and more. The pilot focuses on the Boyle Heights district of Los Angeles, an area with 80,000 residents, a dozen elementary schools, three middle schools and a high school. GMiS staffers, along with students and faculty from California State University Los Angeles and several other schools in the California State University System and professionals from the Army Corps, worked with teachers and students at each school to increase exposure to and awareness of STEM studies, STEM careers, and the importance of going to college.
Multi-goals for student participants
Editor Colborn sat in on a roundtable where participants reported on the pilot year in Boyle Heights. Dr Carlos Rodriguez, principal research analyst at the American Institute of Research and GMiS senior advisor, explained that the program has multiple goals for its student participants. They include developing abilities in STEM fields, increasing confidence, and interaction with role models so they can "see themselves in the STEM fields," get a chance to practice STEM-related skills and learn about careers and career paths in STEM professions.
"Here comes the STEM lady!"
GMiS leaders of the project reported that the program was well-received across the district. "We'd come into the school and hear the students say, 'Here comes the STEM lady!'" said Monica Villafana, director of the initiative. Hands-on projects kept students engaged; one middle school that had never had a science fair put together a successful event with support from the STEM-Up team.
Support from the program's funders and sponsors goes deep. Clarence A. Johnson, principal director of the DoD's office of diversity management and equal opportunity, declares that "This is not only a DoD recruitment tool but a national enhancement tool!"
"Thanks for making history!"
Also at the roundtable was Lt General Robert L. Van Antwerp, chief engineer of the U.S. Army and commanding general of the Army Corps of Engineers (ACE). He was impressed by the progress of the Boyle Heights effort: "Thanks for making history," he said. He notes that two-thirds of US ACEs military and civilian members are STEM professionals, and the Corps will need thousands of new engineers in coming years.
Senior advisor Rodriguez notes that GMiS is working to broaden support for the program in order to begin implementation in other U.S. cities. "There are forty-five Army Corps districts, and I hope each one of them will start a STEM-Up initiative," Van Antwerp said.
Viva Technology expands
The Viva Technology program, started in 2001, is offered as a package to schools from K-12. It provides materials for parent, student and teacher involvement.
Original funding came from the Motorola Foundation, BP and State Farm; current sponsors include the Boeing Co, the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, the Motorola Foundation, NASA, Shell, the U.S. Army, the Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Coast Guard. The program currently operates in thirteen states; sessions are led by engineering students from local universities.
The Department of Defense has sponsored workshops at the last six HENAAC conferences for Viva Technology students in schools near the conference site. This year students worked on rocketry and other engineering projects, participated in STEM trivia quizzes and got plenty of exposure to new-grad and experienced role models.
College Bowl adds fun to engineering
A feature of each conference is the College Bowl competition, an intense series of practical and academic challenges that test students' knowledge, ingenuity and teamwork. It's a lot of fun, too; especially this year with Minnie Mouse participating as a cheerleader.
Teams are sponsored by companies and agencies. The overall event was sponsored by NASA and RDECOM and involved 222 college students and ninety-plus corporate and government coaches and mentors. In five rounds of competitions over a two-day period, the team from the U.S. Department of Defense came in first; the Boeing One team took second, and Sandia National Labs was third.
Top execs discuss the future
A panel of top executives and government leaders is a regular feature of each GMiS conference. They're briefed on GMiS activities and share their own organizations' efforts to increase the pipeline of STEM professionals. This year's gathering included leaders from the Navy, the Army, the Coast Guard, government agencies and national labs, plus execs from Chrysler, Cummins, Raytheon, Northrop Grumman and many more.
Dr Carlos Rodriguez of the American Institute of Research noted that the room represented a "corporate and government powerhouse" well-equipped to help move the STEM education agenda forward at the national level. Scaling the STEM-Up and Viva Technology programs nationally is the overall goal, he emphasized, and added that a new $5 million grant from the Defense Department will help realize Lt General Van Antwerp's goal of a program in each Corps district.
All this and awards, too!
The HENAAC awards were the original focus of the organization and the conference, and remain the high point of the event. They're presented at a Department of Defense luncheon, a Military Heroes dinner and a luminaries luncheon, and the HENAAC Award winners are honored at a breakfast and at the final awards show. In all, sixty-three 2010 awards were presented.
Adalio Sanchez, general manager of IBM's System x server unit and a member of the IBM performance team of top execs, was named the thirtieth member of the HENAAC Hall of Fame, which recognizes lifetime achievements of Hispanic engineers.
Hispanic Engineer of the Year for 2010 is Ralph de la Vega, president and CEO of AT&T; Mobility and Consumer Markets. To see a list of many more awardees from the military, government and industry, check out www.greatmindsinstem.org.
Great Minds in STEM's 2011 HENAAC conference takes place October 6-8 at Disney's Coronado Springs Resort in Lake Buena Vista, FL.
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