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STEM Increases Diversity While Teaching Skills

By Brian Collett

Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) programs are teaching valuable skills to youth—and, at the same time, increasing diversity through outreach to girls and students of color.

One of the larger and long-time programs, the Cisco Networking Academy, the teaching arm of Cisco Systems, has announced that it now serves 1.3 million students in 180 countries annually.

The figures were given as the Academy marked its 20th anniversary at a celebration with operatives and students in Jefferson City, Missouri.

The Academy offers training in cybersecurity, networking, computer programming and other disciplines as part of its science, technology, engineering and mathematics initiative, known as STEM, which is becoming adopted by more and more employers to implement corporate responsibility and increase diversity.

The STEM programs are delivered in 19 languages and take on various shapes specific to companies and their strategies.

All, however, are aimed to equip their students with vital IT skills and enhance the CSR and ethical standing of their companies.

Tre Malik, a Missouri graduate now employed as a network engineer at an internet company, told the Jefferson City meeting: “[The Academy] is the reason for my success. It opened so many doors and opportunities just two years out of high school.”

Many of the students offered STEM skills at Booz Allen Hamilton, a management and IT consultancy in Virginia, are school-age girls. The company’s intention is to bridge the gaps in the tech fields in which women and minorities are under-represented.

Susan Penfield, the consultancy’s chief innovation officer, told the gathering: “Today’s kids are tomorrow’s problem-solvers, inventors and visionaries, and by encouraging young girls to pursue their passion for science, technology, engineering and math, we are ensuring a strong pipeline of STEM talent.”

Lindsey Sayers, now an engineering manager, gained her chance at Edison International, a public utility holding company in California, having built a strobe light in her high school electronics class and watched in awe when she plugged it in and caused the light to flash.

After taking up her job, she and an engineering colleague, Edgar Pabon-Hernandez, visited young people at an elementary school in Diamond Bar, Los Angeles county, and helped them to build an electrical circuit similar to the strobe device she constructed in school.

Torieaun Hilbert was pushed by his grandmother to participate in the Long Beach Math Collaborative, a California partnership with an emphasis on STEM, and on preparing African-American males for college.

He was helped by executive director Doris Robinson to improve his qualifications and graduated with the most scholarships in his senior class.

Robinson said of her students: “They have to believe they can reach the highest level of achievement.”

Hilbert, now a sophomore majoring in criminology, recalls: “I grew up in foster care. I didn’t have anyone who could explain to me how important education is.”

The STEM program appears to be making inroads into the shortfall between IT skills supply and demand. Cisco’s academy proudly maintains the courses produce measurable practical results and nurture softer achievements such as collaboration, leadership, innovation and entrepreneurship.

Photo: Cisco Networking Academy