Of late, there have been quite a number of impressive programs created to bring STEM into underserved communities where access is severely limited. What began as localized efforts, say five years ago, taken on by a few concerned individuals and educators, has now become a nationwide ring-the-alarm effort that has multi-million dollar corporations getting involved.
One company leading the charge is Verizon, and company officials have made it clear, through a new campaign, that when it comes to preparing the next generation for tech jobs in the new innovation economy, #WeNeedMore.
According to a 2014 article published by U.S. News & World Report, “Unless the U.S. ramps up STEM education for all students — including kids who struggle to obtain it now — the U.S., once dominant, will fall further behind the world in the fast-growing global technological economy.” And recent statistics indicate that there are 9 million jobs available in STEM and over 4 million jobs available in science and technology. Rose Stuckey-Kirk, chief corporate social responsibility officer and president of Verizon Foundation, is working to ensure that children everywhere, particularly those from underserved populations, have a shot at some of those opportunities.
In an exclusive interview, Stuckey-Kirk told TNJ.com that, “In talking to some of the kids in the Verizon Innovative Learning, a program we launched to provide free technology, free access and an immersive hands-on learning curriculum to kids across the nation, we noticed that some of them believe there is only one way to a brighter future and that is to be a celebrity. And while we don’t want to put down anyone’s dreams, we want them to recognize and to see the world of possibilities waiting for them. We need more people to make sure they see that world of possibilities.”
To help do that, on April 1st during the Final Four, they launched the #WeNeedMore campaign, a representation of the innovative learning program. Intended to shine a light on the work they’re doing, the campaign has garnered the star power of a few big names in sports and entertainment. “For the ad campaign, we were able to get some of these kids’ heroes such as Cleveland Cavaliers basketball player Lebron James, New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees, Minnesota Timberwolves basketball player Karl-Anthony Towns, Brazilian model Adriana Lima, actress/singer Zendaya Coleman and people who are role models in their own right. They were very happy to help us encourage kids to understand that the world doesn’t necessarily need another one of them but we need more kids to embrace their possibilities,” she shares.
Regarding the educational work itself, Verizon is also working with Project Lead the Way, Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship and Black Girls Code. Notes Stuckey-Kirk, “By collaborating with these outlets, we aim to deliver a very immersive curriculum that includes coding, entrepreneurship for collaboration skills, robotics development and apps development for these children.”
So far, the response has been positive and the expected impact, promising. “I think the impact is really about the impact of Verizon Innovative Learning; it is an educational initiative and we measure the impact it’s having. Sixty-one percent of our participants are people of color; 34 percent are African American children and greater than 70 percent of them are on free and reduced lunch. So when you think about kids that have such a great need, the impact that we are seeing is that they are much more interested in the STEM courses, their test scores are improving, they are more collaborative in the classroom, their absentee rates are going down and they are developing entrepreneurship skills that they can put into play, so we are very proud of that very deliberate impact it is having on children’s lives,” she says.
And how can other individuals or businesses support Verizon’s Innovative Learning? A 2012 Network Journal 25 Influential Black Women in Business honoree, Stuckey-Kirk says, “We certainly want consumers to be involved. Just to clarify, Verizon Innovative Learning is the work, #WeNeedMore is the campaign hook, and when you go to WeNeedMore.com, you have an opportunity to actually make donations that go directly to programs and non-profits that are engaged in this work. We want you to share #WeNeedMore on your social handles. You can actually re-tweet some of the sharing that LeBron, Zendaya, Karl, and all the others have been doing because I think it helps to galvanize the nation in participating in this campaign and, frankly, in your local schools you can actually volunteer and help develop those curriculums that are STEM-related and help schools see the opportunity and the potential.”