Gabby Getz still remembers meeting women who worked as computer scientists, engineers, and other STEM professionals through the Girls Exploring Tomorrow’s Technology expo.
Getz, now 26, was a middle schooler, and the program helped foster her interest in STEM fields, leading to a computer science degree from Drexel University and a job in software development, first at 2020 Top Workplace Analytical Graphics Inc. (AGI) in Exton and then at its spin-off Cesium, in Philadelphia.
“This program helped normalize women being in tech for me,” said Getz, a software developer and project manager. “I didn’t view women as underdogs, or science and math as scary.”
AGI has supported the regional expo that started in Chester County for years, and stories like Getz’s only affirm its commitment.
“We’re igniting and sparking interest in something they never knew about,” said Diana Kimmich, talent acquisition director at AGI. “Raising youth awareness and access to STEM is very, very important. We need to help with growing the workforce.”
Companies around the region are making it a priority to support STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) exposure and education through a variety of partnerships.
Besides AGI, Philadelphia-based business consultancy Slalom and Burns Engineering — both 2020 Top Workplaces — are among the companies partnering with nonprofits to help produce a diverse next generation of techies.
That’s crucial, given the lower number of opportunities for women and people from diverse backgrounds to pursue STEM.
While women make up nearly half the college-educated labor force, science and engineering jobs remain dominated by men, with women making up just 28% of that workforce, according to a 2018 report by the National Girls Collaborative Project, a nonprofit promoting gender equity in STEM.
“We have a tough time finding that talent,” Kimmich said. “If we can start with youth and get them involved, whether they come to work for AGI or not, it’s a win-win for the whole area, for all companies.”
AGI also participates in the Federation of Galaxy Explorers, a nonprofit that uses space science as a way to excite youth about STEM. When school is in session and before coronavirus was a concern, second- through fifth-graders would come to the company’s office once a month to build and launch rockets and partake in other hands-on demos, some led by high school students from a partner school.
“They see how something they put together comes to fruition,” Kimmich said.
Roseanne Joseph, 13, of Exton, started going to Galaxy Explorers when she was a third-grader. The program got her excited about STEM, she said, and the would-be architect still remembers the rocket project. “I like how when we learned something, there was always a fun activity to go along with the lesson,” she said. “We learned about things that people do that are STEM-related and how it benefits and affects the world.”
Slalom Philadelphia seeks to reduce the gender gap in STEM through TechGirlz, a nonprofit focused on inspiring middle-school girls to pursue technology through workshops and other programs. For the past three years, the company has hosted a daylong tech workshop in the spring for Philly-area girls. In late May, Slalom pivoted to a virtual format for TechGirlz, hosting 20 girls for an online course led by women experts.
“They’re exposed to a new skill set … and exploring that technology,” said Maggie Barrett, a consultant at Slalom who helps organize the event with Laura Haase, a data and analytics consultant.
Even more powerful, Barrett added, is that the girls “see grown women who are technologists in their element. They have an opportunity to see themselves as that person, as represented in technology. It expands their own possibilities. We had mentors who helped us.”
Burns Engineering has partnered with Project Lead the Way, a foundation that connects companies with local schools in need of donations to bolster STEM.
The engineering firm that specializes in transportation and infrastructure projects raised more than $20,000 in 2019 through its annual Monte Carlo casino night and other employee events, like a chili cook-off and ice cream social. The money, given as a grant over two years, went to West Philadelphia High School to train teachers in STEM and purchase computers, tablets, and other equipment, according to Abby Facini, a senior marketing associate and co-chair of the company’s Philanthropy Committee, along with electrical engineer Joseph Spirk.
“We have an impact on the local community by supporting these students,” said Christy Jones, a former senior marketing associate at Burns who served on its Philanthropy Committee. “They’re at a very impressionable age. That one little thing could be what gets them interested in a STEM career.”