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Rightsizing STEM Engagement -- Goldilocks and The Three Bears Style!

2019-05-22  |  10 min read 

There’s a popular children’s story titled “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” whereby a little girl stumbles upon the home of a family of bear that include a big papa bear, medium-sized momma bear and small baby bear. While there, Goldilocks tests the porridge, chairs and beds of each bear to find which are just right for her -- breaking some things in the process before being scared off by the bear family’s return to their home.

As I consider corporate science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) engagement with students in grades K-12, it occurs to me that there is a similar trial process to right-size a company’s approach in this space. Not only are there opportunities at varying sizes, but there are different levers at play, such as sponsorship funding, volunteerism or a mix of both. Sometimes employing a variety of engagement models, as Keysight does, helps address different goals as well. In some cases, it may take some trials to find just the right approach for your company. In this post I review the basic levers and approaches to corporate STEM education engagement, with some examples that Keysight has worked with.

Too much, not enough, or just right – the levers to consider

Let’s be clear, there is no shortage of student STEM engagement opportunities for corporations to consider. There are a variety of corporate-managed, industry focused or partnership approaches to choose from. But before getting started it is important to understand the intent and goal of corporate STEM education engagement.

Is your intent to support development in a specific technology area, region of the world, or grade level? Do you have primarily financial funding, employee volunteer resources, or both? And what is your mid-term measure of success – the number of students engaged, employee volunteerism benefit use, geographic coverage, or conversion of school-aged students into technology degree candidates? Answering these questions will help you consider the following three engagement levers in your STEM education approach:

  • Size – While large or multi-location programs have the most reach in terms of the number of students engaged, small events can provide a more personalized experience and local impact, whereas a medium sized engagement may be the right mix of personalization and local representation while reaching a broader audience.
  • Sponsorship level – Financial support can be utilized in many ways. Large event sponsorships reach more students in a single engagement and are generally managed in partnerships across communities and industries for the most bang for the collective buck so to speak. Supporting development of STEM education programs (such as online content and concepts), tend to have a longer use model and can range from relatively inexpensive to significant investments depending on the budget available and project initiated. Funding of educational materials – such as ready-made experiment kits for in-class work – helps serve classrooms where learning tools are scarce but teacher support is high, and can be implemented at a small or large scale.  
  • Volunteerism – If you are lucky enough to have an employee base driven to strengthen local communities and support developing future technologists, volunteer opportunities are a great win:win for students and employees. Modulating the level of volunteerism from a handful of employees to a multitude, and ensuring support for volunteer efforts during work hours, is a great way to maximize corporate contribution in lieu of, or in addition to, financial sponsorship.

After considering the above, you can take the big-, medium- or small-bear approach to your engagement. Maybe even try a few different models. Below are some examples Keysight has supported recently to provide some perspective and ideas.

The big bear engagement – significant investment, much return

In April 2019, Keysight sponsored the FIRST regional robotics competition in San Francisco and is sponsoring the upcoming FIRST Championship events. FIRST is a non-profit organization tasked with inspiring and engaging youth in STEM. Its robotics program challenges high school students to build robots in six weeks to compete in regional and worldwide competitions. Our sponsorship included both financial funding as well as multiple employee volunteers. At the San Francisco event alone, thousands of students were engaged, and it is expected that tens of thousands of students will be supported throughout the multi-event program.

Medium bear engagement – not too big, not too small

As an example of a partnership engagement, Keysight is supporting the annual Society of Women Engineers (SWE) Girls Exploring Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (GESTEM) event in Denver, Colorado later this month. As a silver-level sponsor of the event, we hope to engage upwards of 1,000 seventh grade students with a contingent of Keysight employee volunteers.

In addition, a company managed program called Keysight After School recently engaged over 100 students in the local Keysight community of Loveland, CO. At this event, the company funded experiment kits that taught the properties of light to seven classes of middle schoolers, and it was delivered by over 35 Keysight employee volunteers!

Small bear engagement – just the right size for targeted local STEM support

Personally, I have mostly engaged with local, small-venue STEM education events. Utilizing the Keysight After School program kits, I have participated in two events recently with elementary schools near the company’s Colorado Springs, CO site. Along with a handful of other employee volunteers, I have helped groups of 15-25 fifth grade students through building miniature weather stations and balloon propulsion vehicles. It is tremendously rewarding to see students excited to take their creations home to show their families, and the appreciation of the teachers for supporting their in-class efforts. For Keysight, the cost of the kits and local employee volunteer benefit is well-worth the investment.

If funding support is minimal, another small engagement approach is to bring students to you – to your company offices. For example, students from the Tomorrow’s Leaders Today/Boys & Girls Clubs program recently learned about Keysight in two “Entrepreneurship & Technology Day” sessions at our corporate headquarters in Santa Rosa, CA. With innovation as their focus, students were introduced to Keysight products, toured our Heritage Gallery and on-site labs, spoke with our CTO and participated in teambuilding challenges. This was an ultra-low-cost way to provide a highly interactive STEM learning opportunity for a small group of students.

While these examples are U.S. based, we have seen such programs implemented internationally across Keysight. Employees all over the world utilize Keysight After School kits to deliver the program in local schools and implement site-based activities on Keysight campuses. In fact, the company’s Böblingen office participated in Germany's nationwide Girls' Day by hosting 12 female students interested in pursuing technical careers and engaging them with local Keysight women engineers.

No need to run away at the end, find the engagement that’s just right

Unlike Goldilocks in the children’s’ story, there is no need to run away at the end if you’ve tried a STEM engagement and it didn’t work out as expected. Try testing a different lever or reconsider your engagement goals until you find the formula that works best for your company. Eventually you will get just the right engagement level that supports your corporate goals, your employees, students and the global community.