Draper Laboratory cultivates diversity and young minds
Diversity drives recruitment, retention and development at this nonprofit. Passionate volunteers work to inspire students to join the STEM force
Draper Laboratory is a nonprofit research and development laboratory headquartered in Cambridge, MA, with facilities in Houston, TX, Tampa Bay, FL, Washington, DC and Huntsville, AL.
The U.S. Department of Defense and NASA are some of Draper’s primary clients. The laboratory’s work is focused on the design, development and deployment of advanced technological solutions in security, space exploration, healthcare and energy.
“Roles we’re hiring for include systems engineering, cybersecurity, software engineering, embedded engineering, program management and data science,” says Randall Walker, senior human resources business partner.
Candidates should have technical degrees in electrical engineering, computer science, computer engineering, math or physics. “For seasoned professionals, we look for experience with advanced algorithms, guidance navigation and controls, systems integration and test, and embedded software systems.”
Reaching out to diversity
Draper hires about fifty new engineers a year, Walker says, reaching out to local chapters of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE), the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE), and the Society of Women Engineers (SWE). “We conduct national searches for employees and attend technical and diversity conferences. We also send our engineers to meet with students at schools like MIT, Tufts University, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, the University of Florida, the University of South Florida, and Georgia Institute of Technology.”
Draper typically hires eighty to 100 students a year for internships and co-ops, Walker adds. “We have about fifty to sixty masters and PhD students here every year conducting research for their theses,” notes Kathleen Granchelli, director of media and community relations. “They contribute real-world solutions to problems in various fields.” Draper has a robust educational program that includes undergraduate and high school student internships, as well, she notes.
Diversity efforts involve the entire organization
Amy Duwel, engineering co-chair for diversity and inclusion activities, is one of two engineering leads who collaborate with human resources to drive diversity activities.
“We meet monthly with our diversity council, which consists of dedicated and passionate volunteers from each department,” she says. “The council brainstorms ideas about how to solve problems regarding diversity and inclusion.” In addition, she reports, an executive team consisting of the CEO, VP of engineering, HR director, and engineering leads meets more often to review progress. Draper’s leadership and management training offerings address these topics as well, she adds.
Throughout the year, the lab designates months to celebrate specific diverse groups: African Americans, women, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, and Hispanics. Draper also has a celebration for Veterans Day.
“We invite speakers who represent the diverse groups for technical talks,” Duwel explains. “Staff members run additional activities that highlight aspects of the respective cultures.”
The diversity months often turn into opportunities to attract experienced candidates. Diversity council members who are affiliated with organizations like SHPE, NSBE and SWE act as liaisons for the company and help with recruiting efforts, Duwel says.
Mentoring is growing at Draper
“We have a women’s leadership forum that meets quarterly to discuss professional development,” Duwel reports. Mentoring happens organically within that group and across the organization.
“Mentoring is encouraged and part of our performance review process,” says Duwel. “Formally, we’re experimenting with circle mentoring, where a group of employees meet periodically with one higher level management mentor.”
Building the pipeline
Most community outreach efforts are in the Cambridge area, but some also take place at Draper’s sites around the country, says Denise Mytko, K-12 STEM education and community relations manager. “Our goal is to expose students to the practical applications of the STEM field in the workplace,” she says. “It’s nice for them to see how the concepts they’re learning can be used in a professional context.”
One initiative is a Cambridge School Volunteers program that pairs fifth and seventh graders with members of the Draper staff, as well as personnel at IBM and MIT. “They e-mail about the work they’re doing in school and how that might relate to some of the work that’s happening here,” Mytko explains. “The students visit the lab and meet their mentors, who then go out to the schools and meet students in their space.”
The lab has student group tours for those who have an interest in the STEM field. “Last year, we had a seventh-grade science teacher work as an intern for a few weeks with the technical staff,” says Mytko. “She was able to use what she learned here in her curriculum.”
Draper employees serve as advisors for high school engineering course design at the Rindge School of Technical Arts at Cambridge Rindge and Latin High School. They ensure that the course content is applicable to technology currently in use in the technical workplace. “For instance, visualization is an important part of what an engineer does, and often that may not be put into a professional context in a typical engineering or design curriculum,” Mytko notes. “We let the teachers know which skills young people need to be successful in this type of work.”
Draper is a major sponsor of the U.S. FIRST Robotics team at Cambridge Rindge and Latin High School and supports competitions held at Boston University, says Granchelli. “We’re also involved in MIT’s Cambridge Science Festival,” she says. “As many as 40,000 people attend ten days of activities set up by companies and educational institutions.”
In 2010, Draper encouraged the founding of a science festival in St Petersburg, FL, and is a key funder and participant. The lab participates in the USA Science and Engineering Festival held every other year in Washington, DC, and lends support via judging and scholarships to the Massachusetts state science fair.
“This outreach work couldn’t be done without the many engineers and administrative staff members who volunteer their time to inspire the next generation of engineers and scientists,” Granchelli points out.
“We really believe in building the pipeline. We like to keep in touch with high school students who go on to study in the STEM disciplines, and some of them we have gone on to hire,” Granchelli says. “We feel whether they come to Draper or go to work someplace else, our efforts are helping our nation to build a strong technical workforce.”
||Nonprofit engineering research and development