Bearing witness to the power of America’s future generations
In a world where it seems as if we’re all “connected” by many people, places and things, the idea of a “missing connection” in the world of a middle school student in an underserved community can potentially change the trajectory of their lives.
Recently, I had the opportunity to witness one girl’s perception of her future change before my eyes. Alejandra was one of 30 Latino students from the Elizabeth, N.J. school district whose school field trip brought her to Verizon Communications. Upon their arrival, Alejandra and her classmates were greeted by a team of volunteers who planned to spend the entire day with them. The day was meticulously scheduled by Verizon engineers whose passion for STEM education coupled with the frighteningly low statistics of Latinos, as well as women in STEM fields propelled them into a partnership with a local nonprofit organization to bring this event to life.
The truth is, although women fill close to half of all jobs in the U.S. economy, they make up less than 25 percent of the STEM workforce. What’s more concerning is that while the U.S. population of Latinos is growing quickly, their demographic still makes up less than 10 percent of those in STEM careers, says U.S. News & World Report.
Despite the full day of meet-and-greets, informational sessions and tours, I managed to sneak in some time for a one-on-one conversation with Alejandra before and after the day’s event. We talked about her career aspirations and her thoughts about a possible career in STEM. While the responses she gave may not shock you, the change in her perspective at the end of the day will be a testament to the power of influence and the growing need for active role models and exposure for the children who need it most.
This change came about after spending just a few hours learning about technology, and talking to people whom she could relate to on a cultural level.
More about Alejandra
The fair-skinned, freckle-faced, red-haired Latina affected me with her bubbly disposition and I wanted to learn more about her. I struck up a conversation with Alejandra in between sessions and found that she loves cooking because it brings her family together. She has an impressive GPA of 3.85 and is a member of the National Honor Society. Alejandra is a stellar student and values education, and she aspires to be a cook.
Hispanics are making big waves in college enrollment. In fact, in 2014, 35 percent of Hispanics ages 18 to 24 were enrolled in a two- or four-year college, a 13 percent increase from 1993, according to Pew Research. Hispanic students like Alejandra are breaking the traditional hurdles brought on by society and are more than capable of pursuing a career in STEM. In fact, while her dream is to become a cook, she may not be fully aware of the role that science and technology play in her career choice, like recipe development and kitchen tools and appliances. As the global workforce becomes more reliant on technology, non-related fields are increasingly requiring STEM skills. New tech innovations and solutions make it possible for industries – STEM-related or not – to keep up with the changing corporate landscape. Whether a student aspires to become a firefighter, nurse, actor or banker, technology is omnipresent throughout our lives in more ways than we realize, offering limitless opportunities to younger generations and society as a whole.
Behind the event
The members of Verizon’s employee resource group, the Hispanic Support Organization (HSO), in partnership with the non-profit organization Hispanics Inspiring Success and Achievement (HISPA), coordinated the field trip for Alejandra and her classmates. HSO and HISPA have a shared mission to help lift up and give back to the Hispanic community in meaningful ways, such as providing role models and exposing Hispanic students to careers in technology where they are urgently under-represented.
This STEM Day event at Verizon matters because these children matter. Alejandra matters. The events and outreach HSO conducts has the power to change these children’s lives.
Javier Jaramillo, Verizon Engineer and HSO Mid States Chapter President
Javier Jaramillo is the visionary behind the day’s event. As both a Verizon engineer and the HSO Mid-States Chapter President, he has a vested interest in helping these kids succeed. Javier’s own career trajectory was fueled both by his fascination with learning how things worked and by his parents’ encouragement to seek a rewarding and challenging career. As a child, Javier had the opportunity to attend an event very similar to the one he coordinated for Alejandra and her classmates. It too was a corporate-sponsored event where Javier experienced, first-hand, the future of mobile technology.
His passion for giving back is evident in the countless hours Javier has spent coordinating numerous community outreach events on behalf of HSO. When I asked Javier why this matters, he responded, “This STEM Day event at Verizon matters because these children matter. Alejandra matters. The events and outreach HSO conducts have the power to change these children’s lives. They are not given complete exposure to what life could be like for them if they chose a career in technology, and it’s our responsibility to share this with them at an early age.”
Innovation is at the heart of everything we do, and whether we realize it or not, STEM isn’t just about science and math, it’s about making a difference in the world. It’s time to change America’s STEM perception, and foster a sense of belonging and belief within our future leaders, exposing them to the ways STEM can bridge their passions and dreams together, and expand their horizons, no matter the industry they choose.