This Nonprofit Is Ensuring STEM Jobs Are Attainable for Everyone

This morning, I got locked out of my own smartphone.

It happened after I had exceeded the maximum number of fingerprint-recognition attempts. My phone graciously informed me that I could try again in 29 seconds. After a seemingly eternal half minute, I was allowed to try again. But when I placed my index finger over the start button a second time, I was still not granted access and was informed that I’d have to wait another 59 seconds. 59 seconds! A whole minute?

I tossed my phone aside and decided to do something else while I waited. But *sigh*, everything I needed to do required the use of my phone.

And that, dear readers, is where we are in today’s world of touchscreen technology. We can now do more than ever with a few swipes across the Gorilla glass. We use the incredibly convenient and top-notch technology to do everything from buy concert tickets to schedule a dental appointment. We can even make phone calls from our mini-computers (though with all the texts we have to reply to, who has time for that?).

Smartphone technology, along with the genius engineering that powers our tablets, laptops, and the entire computerized world, is all thanks to the software developers and computer programmers who make up the STEM (Science, Tech, Engineering and Math) fields.

Until recently, well-paying STEM careers seemed to belong to an exclusive lottery of upper-class white males. Minorities* and women** represented only a fraction of the workforce.

But a local Chicago organization is working to change that.

Illuminate + Community

Enter Lumity. Originally comprised of two separate nonprofits, the new, improved nonprofit was restructured in 2007 and became Lumity, a moniker pulled from the words “illuminate” and “community.”

“Lumity intentionally targets teens and young adults that may be on the fence about their future, not because of their ability but due to barriers they face,” says Executive Director Kara Kennedy. She adds, “Our student demographics are diverse – less than 10% Caucasian – and we maintain approximately 50/50 of females and males each year.”

By strengthening high school students’ critical thinking and problem solving skills, Lumity’s mission is to provide teens from underserved communities with skills that will prepare them for lifelong STEM careers. They do this through four basic components of the program: Career and Life Readiness Skills, Real World Projects, STEM Talks, and Career Site Visits.

The Real Life Experience

Here’s where it gets good: Lumity shines brighter than other career-readiness programs, who often take a short-term approach. This is because Lumity partners with career coaches and working professionals who teach technical skills to students for the entire duration of their high school years. The four-year program allows students to actually visit companies in the STEM fields and gain firsthand, on-the-job experience. Big-name Chicago companies like Accenture, Allstate, GE, and Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Illinois invite the teens into their offices. By means of these career visits, students get out of the classroom and into the workroom of engineers, computer programmers, and web developers, all while gaining an invaluable – not to mention marketable – skillset.

Students For Hire

In the northern Chicago neighborhood of Rogers Park, 60% of businesses do not have a company website. So Lumity partnered with the Rogers Park Business Alliance to employ students – yes, they get paid – to develop one-of-a-kind WordPress websites. The companies pay a fee – a small one compared to what such services would normally cost – which goes right to the students. The students in turn, create user-friendly websites for the business. So the teens are making money for the work they do – which means by the time they graduate high school, they already have work experience they can list on their resumes.

STEM Talks and Career Readiness

Other components of Lumity are their STEM Talks, where STEM pros from a handful of industries share what inspired and motivated them to achieve success in their field. The Career Readiness Program teaches students how to develop good interpersonal skills, enhance self-awareness and regulate emotions. This curriculum, based on cognitive neuroscientific research, is designed to prepare students for the workforce, and is a huge advantage to future employers, who estimate that at least 46% of challenges they face in the workforce have to do with interpersonal skills.

Want to Get Involved?

At their annual fundraising dinner, held in March of 2017, Lumity raised $280,000 to be put toward continued funding of the program. Undoubtedly, these funds will go a long way toward the development of future tech-savvy professionals, and support the next generation of a more diverse, modern, and equipped STEM workforce.

Want to lend your support to Lumity? There are various ways to do this. Visit their website to learn more about becoming a STEM Speaker, hosting a career visit, or coach/tutor.

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