Meet Karen – Volunteering to Motivate Young Women

Many people speak aspirationally in broad terms about “helping out” or “giving back” or “sharing the benefits” of STEM enrichment as volunteers with JerseySTEM. It’s truly inspiring to witness the compassion of our team members!

Karen E. Rice – currently a marketing manager with the American Academy of Ophthalmology and previously an executive pharmaceutical consultant with Medical Marketing Solutions, LLC – has a more specific vision for the future of our after-school programs for the young women of underserved New Jersey school districts: “That 80% of girls who enter the program in (middle school) are still active participants when they graduate from high school and enter a science program in college,” she says.

“I think we must identify those girls who are most motivated and encourage them to create and reach their dream of a career in a STEM field,” Karen explains.

Karen didn’t have any experience working with individual donors as a marketer when she started volunteering with JerseySTEM. However – like the intelligent and resourceful thinkers she wants to motivate – she used brain power to figure it out. Karen was able to identify and build a prospective outreach database, which served as a launchpad for the JerseySTEM individual donors program.

“I was searching for an organization where my interest and career in the science and pharmaceutical industry could have a positive influence on young, minority girls interested in STEM,” she says. Karen found a good volunteer home with our team, consistent with her professional commitment to protect sight and empower lives with the leading ophthalmic advocacy organization.

“As a minority female with degrees in science and marketing and years of marketing strategy experience in the pharmaceutical and biotech industries, I was confident and excited (about) the possibility of creating new initiatives to motivate and influence the girls in the JerseySTEM program.”

We think the young women of New Jersey are ready!

Meet Sabrina – Volunteering to Support Our Mentors

“I was lucky to have grown up exposed to computers from an early age,” explains JerseySTEM volunteer Sabrina Whiteman. “I had a father who was endlessly curious and he passed that curiosity to me.”

Acknowledging early exposure to computer science as one source of motivation, Sabrina has forged a career in information technology (IT) – working at companies like MassMutual Financial Group and the American Stock Exchange – and currently serves as senior administrator in the Computer Science Department at Yale University. As a volunteer with our team, she outlined the parameters of our Corporate Mentorship Program screening and matching process – a valuable operational function at the core of what JerseySTEM works to do.

“I love the idea of an organization that exposes children to STEM but also connects university students to participants.”

Says Sabrina: “It was important for me to provide my insight and experience so that JerseySTEM was successful in implementing the (mentoring) program with measurable and trackable goals.”

The JerseySTEM Corporate Mentorship Program pairs college students who are aspiring to STEM careers with STEM career employees (mentors) from socially responsible companies like Microsoft, Google, Verizon and others. The mentors guide the students on job search, job interview and workplace survival basics. In turn, these college students also mentor middle school students and / or teach our after-school programs. (Way to pay it forward!)

The program couldn’t have come too soon, according to Sabrina: “I believe school boards and leaders are woefully uninformed (about) the importance of educating our youth for a future where STEM impacts (the) fabric of our lives. Even with the free tools that are available…schools won’t have the capacity to use them in the classroom,” she posits, pointing to understaffing due to budget cuts as one reason STEM education levels vary from school to school.

Pairing a young professional mentor with a college student has been beneficial for both the mentors and the mentees. It helps each person connect STEM concepts to parts of everyday life; and both participants receive the social benefit of interacting with each other. When supported by a corporate sponsor, employees also take pride in working to further their company’s equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) agenda. Additionally, the mentees pass along what they’ve learned in our STEM youth programs.

“This programming should stand as a model for others across the nation,” Sabrina says. “I foresee (JerseySTEM) expanding and becoming a historically impactful organization that will…grow and serve additional communities in New Jersey.”

Sabrina hopes that students, mentors and instructors benefiting from our program will go on to have diverse and rewarding STEM careers. She also hopes many will, in turn, donate their time to our organization as volunteers.

“Without the right support, our children will fall behind those of other nations,” Sabrina says.

Volunteers like Sabrina and the companies that sponsor our mentors make bridging the STEM enrichment gap in New Jersey possible.

Exploring the STEM Enrichment Gap for Black History Month

Black History Month – observed annually in February – is a celebration of achievements by Black Americans and a time for recognizing their central role in history. The world of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) is not without a Black history of its own. For instance:

  • George Washington Carver was an agricultural scientist, born into slavery, who pioneered techniques to improve soils that have been depleted by crops. He was instrumental in developing sustainable peanut and sweet potato crops.
  • Dr. Nola Hylton had a BS in chemical engineering and an Ph.D. in physics which she used to help develop magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technology. This advancement has led to increased detection and diagnois of breast and other cancers.
  • Katherine Johnson was a math whiz who worked for NASA as a “human computer.” She could solve difficult math problems and helped plan the first moon landing.

These are just a few of the many contributions to STEM made by Black individuals throughout history.

Our research has shown that, despite a rich legacy of STEM achievement, Black people continue to experience STEM enrichment, education and employment gaps. This infographic demonstrates the disparity between Black people and other racial groups when it comes to STEM education and jobs.

You can download to share the infographic here:

If your company is interested in learning more about how to support the Black community through STEM enrichment in New Jersey, please consider becoming a corporate sponsor of JerseySTEM.

2022 STEM Enrichment Programs Commence

It may be cold and snowy here in New Jersey, but our 2022 JerseySTEM enrichment programs are revving up nonetheless!

In Cliffside Park, about 30 students have joined our Coding 100 classes at Cliffside Park Middle School for exposure to basic computer programming skills; and to learn what’s possible through coding. According to the district website, the school district mission is “to educate and challenge students to become skillful communicators, independent thinkers, and life-long learners.” So far, our after-school program is receiving positive feedback as it works to serve the needs of this multicultural population in line with this mission.

The students of the Cliffside Park School District are spread across several demographics with roughly 32% White, 2% Black, 4% Asian, and 61% Hispanic. The district is split about evenly between male and female students.*

No less diverse, the city of Newark is also beginning a round of our Coding 100 classes at Robert Treat Academy Charter School, Inc. with about 30 additional students. We love the school motto: “Work hard; Be the best that you can be; Be kind to one another; and most importantly, Make good choices!”

Check back often to hear more about our STEM enrichment programs in New Jersey schools in 2022. We are looking forward to expanding into other vibrant communities like Jersey City, Irvington, Branchburg and beyond. All after-school programs are provided by JerseySTEM, free of charge for participants.