“Why Should Anyone Care About STEM Education?”
If you’ve had the chance to meet the Verizon Foundation president, Rose Kirk, in person or see her speak at an event or panel, you’d understand that her energy and exuberance are vital and contagious. I met with Rose at Verizon’s campus in Basking Ridge. NJ.
“Why ‘#weneedmore?’ And why now?” I asked.
“Here is the fundamental issue we have in our society,” Rose responded with a seriousness and immediacy that grabs your attention, “We are in a time and a space where people understand the world is shifting around them and education is the key to equalizing the playing field. The issue though is whether people believe that you are equalizing the playing field for the factory jobs of yesterday or are you equalizing for the digital economy that exists today. We believe it’s all about that digital economy. Technology is the way in to equalize education for youth.
“That’s why the work that we’re doing is providing free technology, free access, and immersive hands-on learning, putting hundreds of thousands of kids on the path to either entrepreneurship or a technology related jobs. There are nine million jobs in STEM as a whole; with four million jobs in science and tech. Our work is to ensure that children are equipped to compete for those opportunities. That’s the problem that we’re solving for.”
Boom! There was the movement in a compelling nutshell. Who wouldn’t want to be part of that? I imagined it was easier said than done, especially for the kids, “What are some of the hurdles you think these kids are going to face?”
Hurdles to Access
“I think there’s several hurdles kids face,” Rose shared, sitting forward and placing her hands palms-down on the desktop, echoing the earnestness of her tone, “They face the hurdle of access, they face the hurdle of classrooms where teachers may not be equipped or prepared to put a technology based curriculum in place. Even when teachers do have access to some technology, they don’t always know the best way to use it. Part of the work we are doing is very hands-on with the teachers and the students, helping them to understand how to apply technology in the classroom in a very real way. Once you turn these kids on to technology they quickly start applying it to solve problems, business problems, and societal problems.
There are nine million jobs in STEM as a whole; with four million jobs in science and tech. Our work is to ensure that children are equipped to compete for those opportunities.
“All of those are real issues that you have to address and deal with on the entire continuum, from the minute the kids walk into the classroom to when they go home at night. This is why in our programs, particularly in our Verizon Innovative Learning Schools program, we gift the kids and the teachers with the technology and the access one on one, 24 hours a day. That means every teacher, every student, has that access, all the time. We can’t create this incredible learning environment for kids and then allow them to go home and not allow them to continue.”
I envisioned the total population of kids without access. In 2015, the Pew Research Center found that “most American homes with school-age children do not have broadband access” (http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/04/20/the-numbers-behind-the-broadband-homework-gap/) and that underserved communities make up the bulk of those without.
“How are we reaching all of these kids?” I asked.
Scaling the impact
“Our programs are in every state of the union. There’s a multitude of programs targeting different audiences, whether its work we’re about to do with rural girls, work that we’re doing specifically for African American and Latino kids…it’s very deep and rich and complex work that is having the positive outcomes. ‘How many can we reach?’ is potentially unlimited.
I think what we will see in 10 years is a generation of children who have come through this program who end up as entrepreneurs who are starting their own businesses and who are successful inside companies of all sizes.
“We are very deliberate and thoughtful in terms of how we do it because we want real results. For us it isn’t about how much money we give away, and frankly it’s not about the number of kids, it is about the real demonstrative short term, mid term and long term.”
“What does success look like, long term?”
“I think what we will see in 10 years is a generation of children who have come through this program who become entrepreneurs, individuals who are successful inside companies of all sizes, that can point to these moments with Verizon that changed the way they think about themselves and the future.”
As I noted at the beginning of my conversation with Rose, speaking with her is inspiring, propelling. As I pulled my notes together I looked up at Rose and she was looking intently at me, awaiting a final question.
“What other piece of information do you feel is important to share…”
The Mission is Continuous
“I just met with the FCC and they said, ‘this isn’t big enough, you need more schools.’ I met with The New York Times they said, ‘I don’t believe that there are STEM jobs in this country that aren’t being filled.’ My counter to them was, ‘oh but there are,’ because the reality is when a company needs to fill a job they’ll fill it. It may not be with the level of talent that they need. It may not be the citizen that they have initially wanted, but the job will get filled. Verizon wants people everywhere in America to participate in #weneedmore to show these kids that we’re behind them and to help give them an equal chance at success.
“If we are inspiring children at the youngest of ages to be incredibly curious and technological then they will develop into that adult and eventual employee with incredible potential to do great things.”