By: Rachel Alexander
During my time counseling first-generation college-bound youth in San Francisco, I saw every day that my work was about equity. I went to countless graduation ceremonies, and still, every time one of my students crossed a stage holding a diploma, surrounded by the claps and cheers of their families and communities, I cried. Despite the daily inspiration, however, I was frustrated that my 50 hours of work each week only allowed me to serve a small number of students. I started looking for ways to have broader impact.
My summer with Education Pioneers gave me a glimpse into how that might be possible. I witnessed education professionals facilitating access to college and careers for whole cities and communities of underrepresented youth, by being skillful builders and maneuverers of systems. While our impact was less tangible on a daily basis, by the end of the summer we had expanded opportunity for thousands of kids.
Then I got a job with US2020, and saw how big this kind of change can get.
Born out of a White House call for large-scale, innovative solutions to America’s STEM challenge, US2020 connects science and tech professionals with underrepresented K-20 students across the country for experiential, sustained science learning. Projects range from building a solar car to designing a mobile app to launching a rocket– the kind of inspirational experiences that have been shown to put students on the path for STEM careers. If we are successful, we will provide millions of moments of discovery for the girls, low-income students, and students of color who are too often shut out of STEM careers. And because STEM jobs will continue to grow at a faster rate than others in the coming decade, and STEM workers are less likely to experience joblessness, access to these careers for every student means equity at a very large scale.
This month, US2020 launched its City Competition, a contest that will highlight and support several outstanding efforts to build STEM mentorship capacity at the local level. Up to five cities from across the country will share nearly $1 million in resources from US2020, based on their plans to significantly increase STEM mentoring for underrepresented students. Winning cities will benefit from a cash grant, a cohort of service corps members, access to a sophisticated volunteer-matching database, pro bono consulting services, and local and national communities of practice. Proposals are being accepted from self-organized coalitions including representatives from city government, corporations, nonprofits, schools, and philanthropy, and we anticipate that participation alone will prompt action among regional STEM stakeholders, amplifying the competition’s impact beyond the winner’s circle. (For more information, write to [email protected])
These days, my inspiration comes from seeing how one small idea – making mentoring the “new normal” in STEM companies – can launch big action. And it comes from knowing that I am part of a movement even larger than the one US2020 is building – a movement of educators of all kinds who work tirelessly to deliver an equitable future for all kids. It’s a privilege, and a mandate, and something we will continue to build, together.