Mentorship Leads to Better STEM Outcomes for Disadvantaged Students

The FIRST Gala 2018

Every student is different. Each comes into the classroom with different life experiences, learning abilities and personalities. In an evolving society where employers are rapidly demanding workers with STEM skills and schools are struggling to keep up, a tailored approach to STEM education – one that includes mentorship and accessibility – is required to ensure every student finds success.

Mentorship Makes a Positive Impact

For underserved, underrepresented, and vulnerable students, mentorship can make the difference in delivering positive STEM education outcomes. Many school-aged young adults face challenging circumstances, such as a lack of positive role models, insufficient access to education or other financial or societal barriers, but those who have a mentor are 55 percent more likely to be enrolled in college than those who do not, according to a study by Civic Enterprises. As more employers seek STEM-qualified workers, there are plenty of students who are poised to meet this need – with equitable support.

“Students who question if there’s a place for them in engineering or technology gain self-confidence working with team mentors – especially if they share similar interests or backgrounds,” said Don Bossi, president of FIRST®, a global nonprofit that fosters kids’ interest in STEM fields through robotics competitions. “Our organization relies heavily on professionals and educators who dedicate their time to mentorship, and students learn so much from them.”

Many students – especially young women and people of color – need encouragement and guidance to understand the opportunities that exist for them in STEM. Melissa Smith, a senior user experience researcher at Google and YouTube – and a FIRST alum – only joined her middle school robotics club because she mistook it for an aerobics club. However, Mr. Turner, her science teacher, encouraged her inquisitive nature, and Ms. Foy, her robotics coach, created a welcoming environment by taking the time to teach her how to use everything in the robotics lab, one-on-one. “I remember, very early on in robotics, I was this awkward kid,” said Smith. “Ms. Foy encouraged us to ask questions if we didn’t know something.” Smith says this judgement-free setting is extremely important for young students’ success, and she now calls joining the robotics club the luckiest mistake she’s ever made. Her interest in science blossomed from field trips to the Everglades and space camp, and Smith now works on human and computer interaction for one of the world’s biggest technology companies.

Connecting Disadvantaged Students with Mentors

Whether it’s family economic hardship, gender or racial barriers or a dearth of basic educational resources in communities, disadvantaged young people are systemically hampered by insufficient access to STEM education and relevant mentors. Organizations like FIRST provide students and classrooms with STEM resources, including grants and scholarships, and actively connect students with corporate partners to provide hands-on learning experiences and guidance from professionals. Data shows the approach works: Across all demographic groups (gender, race, economic status and geography), FIRST students show significant gains in STEM knowledge, STEM interest, STEM career interest, STEM identity and STEM activity compared to their peers who don’t participate.

“Companies, education systems and nonprofits must invest in their communities to deliver positive STEM education outcomes,” said Bossi. “There is tremendous untapped potential in underserved communities, and all stakeholders can play a role in connecting students with the resources they need to be successful. We have worked with corporate partners to provide resources and develop strategies that address inequalities in access to STEM education. We hope these resources enable more educators and community leaders to inspire students of all backgrounds to reach their full potential.” For example, FIRST and its equity, diversity and inclusion sponsors have awarded $1.2 million in grants to-date to more than 38 communities across the U.S. and Canada so they can develop strategies to bring STEM engagement opportunities to disadvantaged young people. FIRST also partnered with the National Alliance for Partnerships in Equity (NAPE) to develop free online training for mentors who commit to create diverse, inclusive and equitable teams.

Well into her professional career, Smith now pays it forward by mentoring and volunteering as much as she can, including attending information sessions where middle and high school students can interact with Google engineers, and volunteering as a head referee for FIRST competitions. She has seen firsthand how students gain confidence and come out of their shells when they get excited about learning, and how interacting with industry professionals gives students the opportunities to gain skills beyond robotics. Smith says the most rewarding part of mentorship comes when students learn to deal with adversity and learn from failure during the competition process. “The most exciting part for me is seeing how the kids learn to handle when something bad happens. The students are clearly upset, but they come up to you and thank you for helping them. It’s one of the mentoring moments I truly treasure in my current role, when the students are upset but remain able to have a mature conversation and understand that losing is sometimes part of the experience.”

Bossi echoes this sentiment and adds that mentorship doesn’t have to end when a student graduates. “Good mentorship doesn’t have an expiration date, and it’s gratifying to both the mentor and mentee to watch the latter grow and come into their own. Especially for disadvantaged populations, who may continue to face barriers as they advance in their careers, mentorship can create very valuable lifelong relationships.”

Meeting the Needs of All Students

Educators alone cannot be expected to meet the needs of a diverse student body: The responsibility must be put on all STEM community stakeholders, including the public and private sectors. According to Bossi, school administrators, parents, business leaders and nonprofits have a responsibility to ensure all students have equitable opportunities and pathways to STEM careers. “To truly meet the challenges of education today, we must ensure all students have role models who make them feel welcome, understand they have a voice and have the ability to get their fair shake at success.”

This Brilliant Black Woman Scientist May Have Found the Vaccine for COVID-19

black woman scientist stands next to equipment in lab talking with President Trump Dr. Farci and others

As COVID-19 continues to spread, immunologist Dr. Kizzmekia S. Corbett decided she has had enough. As early as January this year, Corbett has been leading a team of scientists in Washington state to find a vaccine for the virus that is affecting lives all over the world.

Having an extensive background in scientific research, Dr. Corbett is an immunologist and microbiologist with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in Seattle, Washington. Already having studied viral viruses, such as SARS amid its pandemic, Dr. Corbett believes the solution to the coronavirus lies within spike proteins, a binding protein that starts infection once it has connected with the cells.

Dr. Corbett received her doctorate in immunology and microbiology in 2014 from the University of North Carolina, having previously earned degrees in biology and sociology. Throughout her time at school and at The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Dr. Corbett has had over ten years of experience studying this kind of disease.

Having already researched viruses similar to COVID-19, Corbett had previously created test vaccines for SARS and MERS that never needed to be introduced to the public. Though they were never used, Corbett is using her previous vaccines as the groundwork in finding a cure for the coronavirus and has already begun implementing test trials on humans.

Natalie Rodgers
Diversity in STEAM Magazine contributing writer

Chemist Creates Program to Support Vets in STEM

veteran student holding books in his arm with flag in the background

By Emily Litvack

Military veterans interested in studying STEM fields at the University of Arizona are receiving a little extra help, thanks to a new program that was developed to support veterans and increase their participation in research.

The new program is an expansion of the highly successful Arizona Science, Engineering and Math Scholars, or ASEMS program, which provides tutoring, mentoring and specialized coursework for UA students.

“ASEMS has done really well with supporting and engaging students in STEM, so we wanted to take what already exists and adjust it specifically for the veteran population,” said Assistant Professor of Chemistry Michael Marty, who received a National Science Foundation Career grant to support a veteran-specific program dubbed ASEMS-V.

Identifying a Need
In October 2017, James Rohrbough became the first staff scientist in the Marty Lab. Rohrbough spent nearly 21 years in the U.S. Air Force as a chemist and taught chemistry as an assistant professor at the Air Force Academy. But 18 months into retirement, Rohrbough, who retired as a lieutenant colonel, was bored. When he saw that Michael Marty, an assistant professor of chemistry at the UA, was hiring, Rohrbough picked up the phone.

“I thought, ‘I can actually use my degree back at the university,’” says Rohrbough, who grew up in Tucson and received both his undergraduate degree and his Ph.D. from the UA.

Chemists with lab coats on looking at technology equipment
Assistant Professor of Chemistry Michael Marty with lab partner

“James told me he’d like to get back into a lab, and with someone of his level of experience, I was happy to have him,” Marty said.

At the time he hired Rohrbough, Marty was thinking about what impact he could have on students. He wanted to do something new and unique – something that would make a difference.

“With James joining the lab,” Marty said, “I thought we might have a unique opportunity to work with veterans.”

Marty started to look at veterans and higher education more closely, and he didn’t like what he found. Among veterans, both graduation rates and persistence in STEM were lower than in the overall student population.

Marty reached out to Cody Nicholls, who oversees programs and resources at the Student Vets Center and the UA ROTC, and spoke with Kimberly Sierra-Cajas, director of the ASEMS. He asked Rohrbough about the challenges veterans face in an academic environment.

For many veterans, their time in the service is a gap between high school and college, so they may need to a refresher on foundational courses that an undergraduate fresh out of high school wouldn’t need. Also, a much higher proportion of veterans have spouses, children and other commitments beyond their studies when compared with traditional students.

“James was really the one who pointed out how different training was in the military compared to an academic environment,” Marty said, referring to the primarily in-the-field training of the military versus the classroom learning of a university.

“Veterans are typically older, more mature and have more experience when they start university, so they’re more ready to jump right into research than a traditional 18-year-old undergraduate might be,” Marty said. “We think that’ll help mimic the on-the-job training they get in the military. It’s practical, hands-on learning.”

Finding a Solution
From their discussions, an idea emerged. Alongside colleagues in the ASEMS program and the Vet Center, Marty would help launch an ASEMS program for veterans, called ASEMS-V. Through the program, he could support veteran students pursuing STEM degrees and bring their skills to research labs at the UA.

“Marty’s work typifies the science that federal agencies, including the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health, see as both cutting-edge and fundamental at the same time,” says Kimberly Ogden, interim vice president for research at the UA. “Marty embodies a true scholar that is dedicated to research, education and community engagement.”

Through ASEMS-V, veterans at the UA will receive tutoring, mentoring and professional development. They will take courses such as Success in STEM, Professionalism in STEM and Research Readiness, and ideally, will shadow researchers in labs as early as their first semester as a student.

“Hopefully, ASEMS-V will persuade veterans who were on the fence about their degree choices to pursue their dreams and complete a degree in a STEM field,” Nicholls said.

“Veterans are particularly well-suited for careers in STEM,” said Rohrbough, who is helping Marty develop the curricula and will likely teach, as well. “The mindset of military service is mission-oriented. We have a goal; We do everything we can to achieve it. And that’s exactly how we do science, too. We focus all of our energy on the steps it takes to get to a goal, so time in the military is really useful.”

Marty’s NSF grant also supports his research, studying biological membranes and developing new techniques to better understand the interactions of proteins, peptides and small molecules within this complex environment. This grant comes on the heels of a $1.8 million National Institutes of Health grant for this research, as well.
“Research challenges, such as those the Marty lab investigates, are often solved by research teams that can draw upon diverse experiences,” said NSF program officer Robin McCarley, who oversees funding of Marty’s CAREER project. “Veterans bring unique personal and professional perspectives to a university setting. By integrating research and education, Marty is improving outcomes for students of all walks of life and for research.”

Marty hopes to have veteran students participating in the ASEMS-V program and shadowing in his lab this fall, he said.

“The most exciting part of science is being on the forefront of discoveries and being in a research lab is the best way to do that,” Marty said.


Top U.S. Cities for Women Working in STEM

Top Cities for Women in STEM

According to data analyzed by the National Girls Collaborative Project, women account for roughly half of the total college-educated workforce in the U.S., they’re represented in only 28% of science and engineering jobs. Furthermore, within the range of STEM occupations, women tend to be more concentrated in social sciences and in agricultural, biological and environmental life sciences; here, the share of female job holders exceeds 45%.

And, much like the female workforce, activity in industries pertaining to these fields is unevenly distributed across the country. Consequently, as graduate education in STEM fields look to improve effectiveness and inclusion—and more women are inspired and supported to pursue such career paths—CommercialCafe™ set out to determine the current top U.S. cities for women working in STEM.

While most of the cities highlighted in this article are roughly similar in size, some are outliers by a wide margin. For instance, cities like Washington, D.C., San Francisco, New York City, Philadelphia, Houston, and Chicago are significantly larger than other cities in their respective ranking categories. Granted, larger U.S. cities attract professionals in a wide variety of industries—including STEM—to make a life there.

Meanwhile, smaller U.S. cities offer their own convincing advantages—and actually outperform large, urban areas in some respects. In reality, many of the metrics that influence decisions of where to work and live in the U.S. tend to be related to personal preferences and are, therefore, immeasurable on a wide scale. Subsequently, because our analysis did not track lifestyle factors nor factor population totals into the scores, we opted to preserve all entries.

Rather, to gauge the degree of representation of women in STEM occupations, we looked at the share of female employees out of the total number of local employees in STEM occupations, as well as how that share has changed over time in each city. In order to put that metric into a comparable perspective, we also included the percentage of STEM jobs out of the total number of jobs in each city.

Moreover, in order to gauge economic incentives and estimate discretionary income, we also:

    1. Reviewed data on the median incomes of female STEM employees in each city
    2. Compared average local rents to the female STEM workers’ median incomes
    3. Tracked the change in each city’s female STEM workers’ median earnings during the previous five years

In addition, we also considered:

    1. The local share of women in management positions across all occupations
    2. The percentage of women who have healthcare through their employer the local unemployment rate for women
    3. These are potential indicators of the likelihood that the local economy and business environments are inclusive of women.

Finally, of the college-educated population of each city, we also examined the share of women who hold at least a bachelor’s degree. This is a way to estimate the scale of the local, like-minded community.

Read on to see which urban centers ranked best nationally and regionally, as well as which metrics were the strongest for each entry.

Top U.S. Cities for Women Working in STEM Are in West, South Regions

Arlington, Va., achieved the best overall score in our ranking—57.6 total points out of 100. The data we analyzed showed that the STEM workforce here accounted for 15% of total local jobs, which placed Arlington third for the size of the STEM sector within the local economy. In particular, between 2014 and 2018, Arlington saw an increase of three percentage points for female STEM employees; in 2018, they held 34% of local STEM jobs. During the same five-year interval, the median income for female STEM workers rose a modest 4% in the city, settling at just more than $85,000 in 2018.

Notably, Arlington also ranked first for women’s access to health insurance—79% of working women in the city are ensured through their employer. Arlington also recorded the lowest rate of unemployment for women—2% in 2018.

San Francisco earned a total score of 57.5 points for a very close second in our national ranking. Its strongest suits were its earnings metrics, for which it ranked second-highest among the cities on our list. Specifically, the median earnings of female STEM workers living in San Francisco experienced the second-largest five-year increase in our study at 45%. In fact, the city is one of only two on our list in which the median income of female STEM employees exceeds $100,000 per year. (The other city is also located in California and earned the third-best score on our list.)

Fremont came in third overall, with a total score of 56.7 points. Nearly 30% of the city’s jobs are in a STEM field, 24% of which are held by women. Between 2014 and 2018, Fremont saw the fourth-highest increase—21%—in median wages for women working in these industries. Following that five-year improvement, female STEM employees in Fremont were earning the highest median income out of all of the cities on our list—$101,341. What’s more, the strong, local drive to encourage girls to consider education and career paths in engineering is also visible in supportive local partnerships—like the Tesla and Envirolution workshops, as well as hands-on engineering activities organized in honor of Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day in 2019.

Washington, D.C. landed in fourth with a total score of 55.7 points. The city boasts an impressively diverse economy in which 12% of jobs are STEM occupations, 42% of which are held by women. This placed D.C. and Durham in a tie for first place for degree of representation of women in STEM. Not to be overlooked, the capital is also home to the fifth-highest median income nationwide for female STEM workers, following Arlington and just ahead of Oakland. The city also ranked well for rent to STEM income ratio, as the local average rent accounts for roughly 22% of the median income of female STEM workers who live here.

Durham scored a total of 53.8 points and came in fifth. Of the cities we researched for this ranking, Durham ranked highest for the percentage of women in the local STEM workforce—42%, according to 2018 U.S. Census Bureau data. STEM industries account for 10% of the total employment in Durham. As an integral part of the Research Triangle Park and home to heavily STEM-oriented educational and research institutions, it was hardly a surprise that the city ranked best for women’s overall educational attainment—57% of college-educated residents are women. While the median income of local female STEM workers increased 15% between 2014 and 2018, the final earnings value ranked tenth on our list. However, data showed that this income stretches further in Durham than in other urban centers; the city ranked second for its rent-to-median-income ratio, with the local average rent accounting for 21% of the median earnings of women working in STEM.

Oakland—in sixth place overall—ranked third for educational attainment; here, women make up 56% of the local college-educated population. The average rent here is roughly 22% of women STEM workers’ median income.

In Seattle, 17% of jobs are in STEM occupations and women occupy 30% of them. Additionally, the city ranked third for access to healthcare, with 68% of women insured through their employer. Only 3.6% of local women were unemployed in 2018, which gave Seattle the fourth-best unemployment rate. Sacramento came in eighth overall. California’s state capital’s strongest suits were its increase in representation of women in STEM—which improved 10 percentage points between 2014 and 2018—and its third-place ranking for the representation of women in the industry workforce; 41% of STEM jobs in Sacramento are held by women.

Glendale received the most points for housing affordability out of all of the cities on our list. In 2018, the average rent here accounted for just 13% of the median income for female STEM workers. The Arizona city also ranked highest for growth in earnings; from 2014 to 2018, median earnings increased 112% for female STEM employees. The 2018 median value of roughly $90,500 in annual income placed Glendale third for this metric, behind only Fremont and San Francisco. However, it’s worth noting that during the same five-year interval, the percentage of local STEM jobs that were occupied by women decreased by 14 percentage points, resting at 24% in 2018.

Tacoma rounds out the top 10, with a total score of 51.2 points. Here, the STEM sector accounts for 5% of local jobs, and the percentage of women occupying these jobs increased by 15 percentage points since 2014. This was the highest growth recorded among the cities on our list and brought the degree of local STEM representation of women up to 35% in 2018. Tacoma also ranked second for educational attainment, with women accounting for 56% of the college-educated population. It’s also worth noting that the city took the lead on the women in management index; 56% of total local management positions are held by women.

Continue on to Commercial Cafe to read the complete article.

Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained

Tracy Gray is pictured wearing a broad brimmed black hat and smiling

Living life on her own terms, Tracy Gray, founder of The 22 Fund and We Are Enough, has gone from the Space Shuttle program at NASA to managing indie bands to taking on the very male, very white world of venture capital.

Gray is intent on changing the world, one woman and minority-owned business at a time.

A self-proclaimed blerd (black nerd) whose license plate reads “ERACISM,” Gray’s career journey is as diversified as her now widely sought-after financial advice.

“I think my entire life I’ve been searching for what the Buddha called ‘right livelihood,’ or what Eckhart Tolle calls ‘the alignment of your inner purpose with your outer purpose.’”

“You have your passion over here that you care about, then you have how you make money on the other side. And I think the goal in life is — and we should tell young people — to put those two together.”

Fighting the Power

As the girl who “used to do math problems for fun during the summer breaks,” Gray landed her first job in the Space Shuttle program at NASA. The only African American engineer in her group, her far left-leaning politics soon got in the way.

“Back then in the late ’80s, early ’90s, the Space Shuttle was mainly doing stuff for the Defense Department. And I was very progressive, and so this one young lieutenant who I thought was a friend of mine was actually keeping a dossier on me and decided that I could not be trusted. So the FBI, the DD, investigated me for being a subversive.”

Gray decided to leave, “and then I thought, ‘Okay, I’ll stay in technology but I’ll work for the city’ which was soul killing, and then I decided just to quit technology altogether.”

Which brings us to the next, unexpected chapter of this practicing Buddhist, activist, wine lover, world traveler, hip hop and African dancer’s life: working in the music business.

Music to Her Ears

Gray had a deep love of live music, and a friend who was a top music manager. “Beastie Boys, he did Nirvana, he had Foo Fighters, Sonic Youth; big, big bands. And I got to go backstage all the time with him. I thought, this is what you do as a band manager: be backstage, just hang out. So I thought, ‘This is what I’m going to do.’”

“I quit my job…I worked for an indie rock band and a music manager… but then I realized you only make money if your clients make money….I have what I call professional ADD. I have to be constantly entertained, kept busy, and managing several bands at the same time, that satisfied me, but…these indie bands did not seem to want to make money,” Gray matter-of-factly admits.

So, when “the guy [she] was working for” became a managing director of a venture capital fund, Tracy made the leap into venture capital.

But, first, let’s back up a bit.

We asked Gray how she stays centered and finds balance in her very busy, joyful midlife.

She’s been to 41 countries and counting. So when she’s not jetting off to give State Department-sponsored talks on entrepreneurship and funding women, in far flung destinations like Croatia, Cuba and Dubai (coming up next on her travel itinerary), she’s doing yoga or Pilates, attending a meditation retreat, and, more adventurously, snowboarding or scuba diving.

Like any enlightened Californian leftie, “I meditate daily or, if not, most days. But that’s not enough. I also practice, the harder part that keeps me balanced, mindfulness. Controlling those things in your mind that spin us out of control and make us stressed and anxious and feel off balance.”

Gray lets out her signature warm laugh. “That is kind of the theme of my entire life. Everything I do. If someone is doing something that I think is incorrect, or not fair, I’m going to call it out. For good or bad. A lot of times it’s for bad. So I don’t hold a lot of stuff in. That makes me feel balanced.”

She also likes to sit on the floor, which is at once a very down to earth habit and a way to level the playing field in, say, a room full of politicians or VCs. “My most comfortable place is on the floor, or in some position. I’m very flexible and a chair is very confining. I don’t really sit in chairs that much. I’m usually standing up doing work.”

“It is hard for me to sit still,” which comes as no surprise given the amount of energy and enthusiasm that just radiates from Gray.

Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained

Her exposure to VCs when she was in the music industry prompted lots of immediate questions for Gray’s inquisitive mind. She attests, “We only have one life to live and, not to be cliché but, why play it safe? Where does that get you, really?”

“Don’t let anyone else tell you you can’t do it, including that other person being yourself, in your mind. I have friends who are afraid to look stupid. Just ask….We didn’t come out of the womb knowing everything. The people who are successful, not just talking about money, is because they ask, they learn. You have to be a constant student. Age doesn’t matter.” Wise words indeed, and Gray’s own personal mantra.

So when it came to venture capital, she asked her music manager friend who’d gotten into funding, “’What is their business model? How do they make money? What’s their product?’ I would pretty much criticize him about his selections of companies.”

His inviting and, in hindsight, generous response: “’Instead of criticizing from afar, we need an analyst. Why don’t you come in and we’ll pay you?’”

Her response, classic Tracy Gray humble confidence: “ ‘I don’t know what venture capital is, but okay, I’ll do that.’”

“And that’s where I found my passion.” She likes creating win/wins born of collaboration, a behavior she finds from her experience to be clearly female.

She was soon reading 500 business plans a month, from all different kinds of companies and technologies, and attending 5-6 meetings every day with entrepreneurs, people pitching the fund for money. “I would help them with their marketing strategies, business models. I love working with entrepreneurs and people trying to create something new and different, something that could possibly change the world.”

Gray’s acclaimed 2015 Tedx Talk, “Why It’s Time for Women to Be Sexist with Venture Capital,” served as the catalyst for We Are Enough. Since its founding, their mission has been “to increase the flow of capital to women entrepreneurs by educating women on how and why to invest in women-owned, for-profit businesses, or with a lens on gender.”

Women Helping Women

“I never had a mentor who looked like me,” Gray confesses. “Most of my professional life, and before my professional life, I was always pretty much the only African American in anything I did. And so when I did my TED Talk, I thought I was going to talk about my time as the only African American engineer, program for the Space Shuttle I was on.”

“Then I just started to do research, because I’m an engineer and I have to do my research. And I started to see all these numbers about women.” Which was the beginning of another eureka moment for Gray.

“First, the numbers that I saw were the lack of capital going to women from the finance industry. And then I started to read the numbers on how women-owned businesses are more successful, so that didn’t make any sense to me. If something doesn’t make sense it drives me insane because I’m a logical engineer so facts matter to me. And also coupled with that, injustice, something being unfair or inequalities, get me equally as riled up.”

“We don’t have to beg, shame, cajole, plead with the men in power who control the money and the investments. All we have to do is get women to understand the power of their wallets and get them to invest.” United Nations studies have shown that 90% of women’s capital goes to supporting their family and the community, compared to only 35% of men’s earnings. So, “if women have wealth it goes towards solving the top 5 [Sustainable Development] goals that the UN has.”

“That’s what made me start We Are Enough. I thought, ‘Oh, this is simple’….We just have to get women to invest money in women, and then we literally change the world. We solve so many problems. And that’s not just hyperbole. We literally change the world.”

Woke Before It Was a Thing

As we dug down into the inequities of VC funding, Gray recalls, “I entered venture capital in 1999, and at that time right before the dot bomb, we were literally giving away $2 million to two dudes and their idea.” In case anyone remembers otherwise, “There was all this money flying around, as an analyst, associate I would get the business plans first, and I would go through them before any of the partners saw them. Then I’d have the first meeting. I don’t think I saw a single African American. We invested in one woman, but I don’t really remember seeing any [others]. At this point I didn’t see anyone Asian, Southeast Asian, no one of color. I mainly saw white men. And the mission was supposed to be job creation.”

Continue on to We Are Ageist to read the complete article.

Engineer Makes a DIY Cell Phone With Rotary Dial So She Doesn’t Have to Use a Smartphone

34-year-old engineer Justine Haupthas buholds her teal colored mobile phone with a rotary dial

A brilliant 34-year-old engineer has built her own mobile phone with a rotary dial—and she did it because she despises texting and over-complicated smartphones.

Justine Haupt has spent the last three years developing the old school device so that it can fit in her pocket, get better reception, and maintain a battery life of up to 30 hours.

When she wrote about the retro cell phone on her blog, the website crashed from the sheer number of visitors clamoring to admire the retro gadget.

Since Haupt has been inundated with requests from fellow smartphone haters begging for their own version of the phone, she is now offering DIY build-it-yourself kits to the public.

The astronomy instrumentation engineer from New York’s Brookhaven National Laboratory says she was was inspired to make the phone because she dislikes the culture and design of smartphones.

“I work in technology, but I don’t like the culture around smartphones,” says Haupt. “I don’t like the idea of being at someone’s beck and call every moment and I don’t need to have that level of access to the internet.

“I’ve never texted, and building this phone was in part so that I would have a good excuse for not texting. Now I can hold up this phone and say, ‘No, I can’t text.’”

While Haupt did once buy a Samsung Galaxy smartphone for her mother and played around on it herself, she said she got rid of the device after a month.

“I thought I would give it a try but I lasted less than a month with it before I went back to my flip phone,” she recalled. “I’m an engineer, I love technology, but the phone is not the way I want to do it.”

She is also not a fan of the smartphone’s interface or touch screen.

Numbers display on this screen – SWNS photo

“[It’s] absolutely horrible,” she added. “When you open an application and then you want it to go away but you don’t know if it is closed—that grates against the fiber of my being.”

Haupt’s appreciation of rotary dials inspired her project.

“I had had a flip phone for a long time and it can technically text so I wanted an even more dumbed down phone. I thought: ‘why not make a rotary dial phone?’” says the engineer. “I wanted it to fit in my pocket, be sleek, something I could actually use.

Haupt sourced a rotary dial from an old Trimline telephone, making sure the dial was small enough to fit on a phone which would slip into her pocket.

“I never expected to go viral with this,” Haupt said. “I didn’t want to sell it at first but everyone was clamoring and I got so many emails from people begging to buy a phone, and (then) someone suggested I should make a kit.”

Customers can buy the kit, which includes the circuit board and the 3D printed parts, from her company Sky’s Edge for $170—although they will have to source their own rotary dial.

Continue on to the Good News Network to read the complete article.

Cecily Myart-Cruz becomes 1st woman of color to lead L.A. teachers union

Cecily Myart-Cruz speaks into Microphone at podium during rally

The L.A. teachers union has elected the first woman of color, Cecily Myart-Cruz, to lead the organization, part of a familiar and experienced team that will include outgoing union President Alex Caputo-Pearl, who was elected as a vice president.

“I’m proud of the way we have worked with members to create a union that is inclusive, that is a fighting union, that cares not only about educators, but about parents, the community and students,” said Myart-Cruz, 46, who as union president assumes a role of influence and power in the Los Angeles Unified School District, the second-largest in the nation.

Myart-Cruz received nearly 69% of the vote to represent some 31,000 Los Angeles teachers, school nurses, counselors and librarians. The next closest was Marisa Crabtree, with nearly 11% of the vote in the five-candidate field. Crabtree had proposed to turn the union more toward classroom and teaching issues, while deemphasizing politics.

But Myart-Cruz said she sees the fight for political influence as essential to improving teaching and classroom learning conditions.

A little over a year ago, United Teachers Los Angeles went on strike for six days, bringing a focus to overcrowded classrooms and staffing shortages. While Caputo-Pearl headed that effort, Myart-Cruz was a key advisor. Caputo-Pearl is barred by term limits from seeking a third three-year term.

“The work is not done. Our educators need the resources and our babies need the resources as well,” Myart-Cruz said.

“By almost any measure, Caputo Pearl has been a strong and effective leader,” said Charles Kerchner, professor emeritus of the Claremont Graduate University School of Educational Studies. “The plan to swap offices with Cecily Myart-Cruz would essentially keep the leadership regime in place. That creates stability in ideas and agenda.”

All the same, Myart-Cruz emphasized that she will be fully in charge when she takes office in July.

The momentum from last year’s strike carried over into the May election of Jackie Goldberg, a union-backed candidate, to the school board. But soon after, L.A. voters defeated Measure EE, a parcel tax that would have increased local resources for schools.

The union is currently engaged in a high-stakes, big-money battle with supporters of charter schools for three contested seats on the seven-member Board of Education. If even one union-endorsed candidate loses, the direction of the board could shift away from some union priorities. These include limiting the expansion and spread of nonunion, privately managed charter schools and pushing for higher pay and increased school staffing.

Myart-Cruz, a district parent and single mother who identifies as biracial, black and Latina, has 25 years of teaching experience in elementary and middle schools. She has long been part of the union’s activist wing and helped lead a campaign to remove principals whom the union felt treated teachers unfairly.

As a regional chair she also helped organize a yearlong boycott against some standardized testing to take on what the union described as the “overtesting” of students. Union leaders argued that students took too many standardized tests and wanted the number reduced because they take away from learning time.

The new president also has been active at the state and national level in teachers unions.

The election turnout was low, but that’s been a consistent recent pattern in union internal elections. Close to 5,300 union members cast ballots out of about 31,000 eligible voters.

Continue on to the LA Times to read the complete article.

The hidden factor that’s keeping people out of STEM jobs

Mans hand appearing to hold a 3-D image of a STEM collage

Job growth in STEM fields is currently outpacing overall job growth in America. That means that 2.4 million STEM jobs in the U.S. are going unfilled. But, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, universities are only expected to produce one-third of the graduates needed to fill those roles. That’s a vast gap in STEM talent. The leak in the pipeline happens to be in a place no one is talking about: in advanced math classes. Calculus, to be specific.

For thousands of students, calculus is a frustrating barrier to a STEM career. Roughly one-third of students fail or drop the course out of frustration. According to the National Institutes of Science, women are 1.5 times more likely to drop calculus, simply from a lack of confidence rather than ability. Yet nearly every STEM job requires at least one semester of it.

Unfortunately, there is no fast track to learn math, nor is there a shortcut to creating the logical connections in the brain that we acquire over a lifetime of problem-solving and critical thinking. Math skills can be developed if people are willing to spend the time and do the hard work.

The solution isn’t simple, but the use of advanced artificial intelligence (AI) can change the way people learn difficult subjects such as calculus. AI offers a range of applications for education and can be used to power more efficient, dynamic, and personalized learning.

For example, teachers face the challenge of providing personalized feedback at scale across a classroom or in multiple classes. When people have gaps in understanding, AI has shown the ability to identify patterns and offer the most relevant hints and instructional help. As students learn and progress, AI can adapt to each of their individual learning styles and preferences. Over time, AI may resemble the work of the best teachers, becoming a virtual aide for them to reach students in a different way both inside and outside the classroom, hopefully proving itself as an effective teaching tool.

More than a year ago, I formed a team of data scientists, engineers, and learning specialists to figure out how we can use AI to solve some of the world’s most intractable learning challenges. We considered tackling a number of hard subjects, such as algebra or the English language, where advanced AI techniques would allow us to deliver individualized learning experiences. This would be a first for education and a really impactful application of AI for good.

We kept coming back to calculus because of the frustration it causes for students and its potential to make a massive difference in the STEM economy. We also knew that if we could crack the code on the most difficult math discipline first, we could scale the technology across nearly any subject where people struggle to learn. The result was Aida Calculus, the first AI-powered mobile calculus tutor.

At the outset of our project, we knew some key things about how people learn math, and that learning pedagogy and cognitive science would prove critical to the application of AI. For example, students have a lower mental load if they can work on a math problem by hand on paper. We also realized that calculus learners understand math better if they know how it is applied in real-life situations.

This is where the application of AI techniques, including deep learning, computer vision, and reinforcement learning, can help. AI has the ability for personalized instruction, to measure effectiveness, as well as provide one-on-one tutoring. When faced with a difficult equation, a student would just have to take a picture of their handwritten work. AI can recognize handwriting, analyze the problem, provide step-by-step instruction, and offer examples of real-world utilization while adapting to each student.

When all of this works well, it feels like magic. It’s also a way we can show people the beauty and joy of math in our world. The goal is to engage anyone—student or adult—who is curious about how to apply math in their daily lives. By making calculus relevant and relatable we can begin to instill the confidence people need to take on STEM careers.

Continue on to Fast Company to read the complete article.

T.D. Jakes Launches Foundation To Bring Greater Diversity And Inclusion To The STEAM Workforce

African American collge students taking notes in a lecture

Globally recognized entrepreneur and faith leader T.D. Jakes announced the launch of his new nonprofit organization, the T.D. Jakes Foundation, which focuses on STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics) education, workforce preparedness and job training. The foundation’s goal is to increase diversity and inclusion, and gender equity, and connect corporations to new, highly skilled pools of talent amid increasing global competition.

With the launch of his eponymous foundation, Jakes is building on his many decades of work serving the Dallas community through programs like the Texas Offenders Reentry Initiative (T.O.R.I.), which has received federal, state, city and community awards for its success in preparing former inmates convicted of non-violent crimes for the workforce, and a leadership conference focused on female empowerment. He plans to tap into his many connections in the business world to help level the playing field for women and people of color who have traditionally been underrepresented in high-paying, in-demand STEAM fields.

“Throughout my life, I’ve had the great fortune to work closely with so many different communities,” said Jakes, who will serve as Chairman of the Board. “I hope that, through this foundation, I can build bonds and create connections between businesses and people from different backgrounds—so that every person—regardless of age, race, gender or ethnicity—can achieve their full potential. This isn’t just about creating opportunity for tomorrow, next week or next month. This is about creating generational change—work that will continue for decades to come.”

To serve people of all ages and provide businesses with a trusted voice within new communities, the T.D. Jakes Foundation will focus on three core areas:

  • Business Partnerships—Connect global businesses with the talent and resources to succeed in a highly competitive environment.
  • Workforce Readiness—Provide people with the skills to compete in a rapidly changing workforce both by reskilling the existing workforce and developing the future workforce though programs like STEAMLife, a summer camp program that exposes students, ages 5 to 16, to hands-on projects.
  • Community Building—Create Dream Centers to bring people together to provide a wealth of services, education and life skills, including financial literacy, apprenticeships and more.

“Increasing diversity and inclusion, and gender equity, in the workforce isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s a business imperative,” said Hattie Hill, President and Chief Executive Officer of the T.D. Jakes Foundation. “For companies to win the war for talent, they must bring in people with new and different perspectives. In 30-plus years of global experience, I’ve seen that a business’ competitiveness is directly linked to its culture and people.”

The T.D. Jakes Foundation’s focus on STEAM education and training is designed to level the playing field in science, technology, engineering, arts and math occupations, fields where women and people of color have been historically underrepresented. According to the Pew Research Center, women in computer occupations have declined since 1990, from 32% to 25%. African American and Latino workers represent approximately 29% of the working population but comprise only 16% of the advanced manufacturing and 12% of the engineering workforces.

About the T.D. Jakes Foundation
The T.D. Jakes Foundation is committed to building bridges to opportunity in the United States and around the world. For 40 years, T.D. Jakes has connected diverse communities across socio-economic divides. With the launch of his eponymous foundation, Chairman Jakes is harnessing decades of resources and connections to prepare people for success in the 21st-century workforce, lift underserved populations and connect corporations to new, highly skilled pools of talent amid increasing global competition.

SOURCE The T.D. Jakes Foundation

Diversity in Tech is More Important Now Than Ever — Here’s How I’m Helping Make it More Inclusive

Fatim Mbaye pictured sitting on short wall outside of her Qualcomm office

In celebration of Black History Month and International Women’s Day, Qualcomm is proud to feature Fatim Mbaye, who has been extremely influential in recruiting and empowering African and African American employees.

Fatim Mbaye, a program manager based in San Diego, has always been an advocate for diversity in the tech industry, which gets a bad rap for being very white, very male and very unable to reconcile its shortcomings.

But at Qualcomm, she has found an entire community dedicated to representing, recruiting and supporting African and African American employees.

And from attending her first event with the group, she’s understood the diversity and inclusion work being done at Qualcomm is the real deal.

Qualcomm is Hiring! Browse Opportunities.

“Leadership at Qualcomm is investing more and more in our diversity initiatives. I believe that’s a good reflection of the evolving and progressive culture,” Mbaye shared. “I am most proud of our efforts in recruiting black talent. With Qualcomm’s buy-in, we have been able to attend conferences and bring in interns and new hires.”

We spoke to Mbaye about how her work with Qualcomm’s African and African American Diversity Group (QAAAD) has made her everyday work feel more meaningful, how the group is approaching intersectionality in tech and how Qualcomm’s support has made their campaigns feel worthwhile. She also shared her best advice for women who want to do inclusion work within their organizations — and spoke to the recruiting event that she was able to participate in years after it supplied her an early-career internship.

How long have you been in your current role and what were you doing previously?
I have been in a Program Management role at Qualcomm for four and a half years. Prior to that, I was a Program Manager at Texas Instruments for supporting new product development of high-performance analog products.

How and why did you first get involved with Qualcomm’s black affinity group? Did the group draw you to Qualcomm?
I was not recruited by QAAAD, but I looked for them as soon as I joined Qualcomm! I have always been an advocate for diversity and was an active member of the Black Employee Initiative, as well as Women’s Initiative, at my former employer. Once I reached out to QAAAD, the group was getting ready for their main annual recruiting trip at the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) convention and I volunteered to join them.

NSBE holds a special part in my heart because I was very involved as a university student and was the secretary of my school’s chapter while completing my graduate studies. I actually got my first internship through a NSBE conference! I was so excited to go full circle and talk to candidates at the Qualcomm booth, hopefully opening the doors to their first job or internship.

I came back from that trip feeling like a part of the QAAAD family and accepted the invitation to be part of the Operating Council. I’ve been serving on the board ever since.

What have been the benefits of getting involved with your affinity group? Who have you met? How have they helped you in your professional journey?
There are so many benefits! From networking with peers and senior management to making an impact in our local community through event sponsorships to hosting middle and high school minority students and inspiring them to pursue STEM to being part of a mentorship program. Ultimately, there’s a feeling that there are others around you with a shared experience.

What has the affinity group accomplished that you’re most proud of?
I am most proud of our efforts in recruiting black talent. With Qualcomm’s buy-in, we have been able to attend conferences and bring in interns and new hires. And with the support of our Diversity and Inclusion team, the Qualcomm University recruiting team added two new universities that are historically black to their list of targeted campuses for their annual recruiting campaigns. We are already seeing an increase in our numbers.

What’s the #1 thing you think you colleagues should know — but probably don’t know — about the group?
The talent is there — we need to go to it. Diversity in a technology field is very important and QAAAD can be a powerful tool to help attract black talent. With the emergence of AI, it is even more important to ensure that all voices are at the table to come up with better solutions and counteract unconscious bias.

How does the black affinity group engage with or collaborate with other affinity groups? How has this intersectionality created value at Qualcomm?
One of our goals this year is to collaborate more with other diversity groups and I am looking forward to it. Our first effort of synergy will be with the women affinity group, Qwomen. We are co-sponsoring a symposium organized by the San Diego Commission on the Status of Women and Girls on human trafficking. The topic is very timely and both organizations want to raise awareness within our community. The event will be held on the Qualcomm campus and is open to the public.

How are your company’s affinity groups reflective of the overall culture at Qualcomm?
I’ve personally noted that leadership at Qualcomm is investing more and more in our diversity initiatives. I believe that’s a good reflection of the evolving and progressive culture at Qualcomm.

What is your advice for women who want to make the company they work for more inclusive?
It starts with women! We need to be more supportive of each other and mentor and sponsor our junior colleagues. In addition, we need to recruit more male allies, as this cannot be done without their support. As a longer-term strategy, there is power in numbers; we need more women to pursue engineering and STEM in general. So, let us inspire all young girls through mentoring and school visits to show them that the possibilities are endless. I truly believe in reaching out to the youth because representation matters and can make a difference in what someone can dare to dream of.

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SACNAS will be hosting the 2020 National Diversity in STEM Conference coming to Long Beach, CA

SACNAS Partner Reception

The Society for Advancing Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans (SACNAS) is excited to be hosting the 2020 National Diversity in STEM Conference in Long Beach, CA on February 25! Come learn about partnership opportunities and ways to optimize your presence.

Your partnership is critical to the conference success and engaging diverse students and professionals in STEM.

We anticipate 5000+ attendees and are developing the partnership advisory group consisting of local and regionally based institutions and companies to help guide programming.

In addition, we have developed a cultural advisory committee to ensure that we take into consideration the cultural context of the region. Our goal is to continue to serve as a bridge for academia, government, and industry in achieving diversity, equity, and inclusion.

For more information, visit