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These are the inaugural AL DÍA Leaders in STEM. Photo: Peter Fitzpatrick/AL DÍA News.
These are the inaugural AL DÍA Leaders in STEM. Photo: Peter Fitzpatrick/AL DÍA News.

Opening the door for more diverse individuals to enter the world of STEM

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A career in any of the four STEM fields can open up a world of possibilities for young, diverse individuals. But what good are those possibilities if you aren’t aware of them?

The inaugural AL DÍA Top Leaders in STEM event answers this burning question, and much more.

On Wednesday, Aug. 10, eight local organizations were recognized and honored for their contributions toward bringing individuals from diverse backgrounds into the STEM fields.

They were Girls Inc., GSK, Coded By Kids, Comcast, SHPE, PECO, Math Corps, and Philadelphia Futures. 

The lack of representation for people of color and women within the STEM fields are clear, and these organizations are working toward providing a solution. 

At Girls Inc, the overarching goal is to keep young girls from becoming ingrained in the stereotypes that often sway them away from pursuing STEM careers. 

“Our STEM continuum begins at kindergarten, where they are reading books and learning about STEM careers and they’re doing project-based activities,” said Cherice Arrington, associate director of programs & advocacy at Girls, Inc., as she accepted the award on behalf of the organization. “In middle school, we connect them with mentors, STEM professionals, and we take them to different companies where they’re experiencing what it’s like to work within these areas.”

The curriculum culminates with a Eureka! Program, in partnership with Drexel University, where students are able to go to college campuses, meet Drexel professors and students and get hands-on experience within the STEM fields. 

Coded By Kids also focuses its efforts on beginning the exposure to STEM at an early age.

“We’re really here to make sure that we’re committed to our students for the long haul,” said Danae Mobley, Chief Operating Officer of Coded by Kids.

Its tech and innovation education programming is suitable for students aged 8 and up, and strives to create opportunities for underrepresented groups to gain skills in software development, digital design, computer science, entrepreneurship and other valuable programs. 

Building that interest at a young age can create the pipeline of diverse individuals entering the STEM workforce; one of the key missions of this effort. 

José Vélez Silva, vice president of multicultural brand marketing at Comcast, noted that diversity, equity and inclusion are hallmarks of Comcast’s culture, and is really fostered within its technology group.

“At Comcast, we’re on a mission to create a world where the next generation has the skillset they need to succeed and thrive in a deliberately increasing digital world,” he said. 

He added that the goal is to bring more awareness and education to underserved and underrepresented communities tso they can see that opportunities in STEM are available to them no matter their background. 

Overall, the AL DÍA Leaders in STEM event provides a look at what the future of the STEM workforce can — and quite frankly should — look like.

STEM careers are not something mundane or passive.

“Engineers are essentially problem solvers,” said Chris Wilkie, CEO of SHPE National. 

SHPE is the largest STEM association in the nation focused on increasing STEM access for Hispanics. 

“We do this through education, development, support and empowerment,” added Wilkie. 

The goal of having more diverse representation in the STEM fields correlates to the increasing diversity of our country’s population. 

Sulma Dalessio, director of field and meter services at PECO, that this is an everyday effort at the company. 

“We brainstorm what can we do to attract our community toward our company, what can we do to make sure that our company mirrors the communities that we serve,” said Dalessio. “It’s a commitment that we have, it’s something that is actually a job requirement.”

“If we are not doing that, we are not doing our job,” she added. 

To close the acceptance speeches, Sara Wood, President & CEO of Philadelphia Future, provided a very poignant statement.

We know that children here in Philadelphia matter, and we want to make sure that every single door is open to them in the STEM field and in every field,” she said.

The work of these eight organizations are paramount in creating a society where children of all backgrounds can grow up with the confidence and belief that they are capable of entering into any field of work, because they have role models and mentors who are already making a positive impact within those professions. 

The 2022 AL DÍA Leaders in STEM event served to not only shine a light on the great work that is already being done, but also serve as inspiration for more efforts to be made toward diversifying our very important STEM fields. 

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