Verizon Workshop Introduces Students to Wireless Technologies and STEM Careers

Eighty percent of all jobs over the next decade will require science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) skills, according to a 2014 study. Meeting that demand, however, won’t be easy. Today, more than 3 million STEM jobs are unfilled in the U.S., yet only 233,000 of the 3.8 million ninth-graders will end up pursuing a STEM degree in college, says the National Center for Education Statistics.

To help close that gap, Verizon Wireless’s Richmond-based network team recently conducted a workshop to get middle and high school students not only excited about STEM careers, but to pique their interest in the unique opportunities in wireless. The wireless focus is key because at college job fairs, STEM students typically overlook the role that wireless plays in enabling many of the broadband services on which we all rely.

The workshop gave students hands-on opportunities to understand how wireless lets people pilot drones, connect to smart basketballs to record the number of dribbles in a minute and remotely control GoPro cameras. Students were given the opportunity to take part in two activities related to wireless during the session. The first activity was a “paper” exercise in how to design wireless networks, taking into account budgets and coverage objectives like important government/public buildings and major highways. The second activity was a “tower building challenge” where the objective was to build a tower out of marshmallows, straws and popsicle sticks that met certain height and structural objectives.  Throughout the day, various network employees shared their “STEM story” with the group, telling them how they became interested and involved in STEM, and eventually wireless.

Held July 16 at the company’s Richmond, Va., mobile switching center, the workshop was Verizon Wireless VA-Region’s first community outreach involving STEM. The program complements Verizon Foundation STEM initiatives such as providing $1.6 million in grants to 80 school districts nationwide, and a $10,000 grant that allows 20 elementary-aged children to participate in a STEM program at Piedmont Virginia Community College.

Focusing on the younger generation helps lay the foundation for fifth-generation (5G) wireless and beyond by ensuring there will be a large pool of people qualified to design, build and operate tomorrow’s networks.

“We’re continually trying to find and hire people who really know what wireless is and want to work in wireless, as opposed to hiring an engineer who had a couple of classes in RF or networking,” says Tim Dykstra, operations director, who helped conduct the workshop.  

The workshop was a pilot program open to employees’ family members. The company plans on expanding the program as part of its continuing efforts to promote STEM education and opportunities, like the Verizon Innovative App Challenge, an exciting, creative and collaborative nationwide competition to encourage students to explore new ideas and consider future careers in STEM.