Last month the 49ers hired me to design a mural that celebrated a new STEM lab and program that the 49ers Community Foundation and Chevron have set up at Cabrillo Middle School. I painted the “rough draft” on the wall, and then students, players, and VIP’s from the 49ers and Chevron came out to help me paint the mural. It was a highlight of my year to be involved with such a worthwhile and fruitful project. Thanks to the enthusiasm and hard work of the volunteers, the bulk of the mural was finished in one day!
The finished product
The 49ers put together a movie that captures the fun of the day:
Each year, the 49ers STEM Leadership Institute will select 60 sixth graders that show academic promise to participate in a six-year program that will prepare the students to pursue STEM majors at top-tier universities and become future leaders in their fields. Students commit to longer school days as well as summer school and compete in local and national STEM competitions. Through the Chevron STEMZONE fabrication lab (or “Makerspace”), students will have the opportunity to explore, discover, build, and engineer their own projects. The program also provides dedicated STEM teachers, mentors and college counselors.
Here’s why I think this program is so important:
1. The Girls
For a myriad of reasons, many girls do not choose to take robotics, programming or other “STEM” based electives in junior high and high school on their own. This gap persists until you get in the real world, where women comprise only 26% of jobs in tech. I read a great quote yesterday by Susan Wojicki, CEO of Youtube, “If women don’t participate in tech, they are losing the chance to influence the largest economic and social shift of this century,”. It starts early. There are precious few girls that choose to take STEM electives at my son’s junior high. I know one robotics class where the only girl in in the class is there because her parents required her to take the class. Making computer science and engineering part of the core curriculum means balanced classes, and giving the girls chances to explore and create projects that are creative and meanningful to them.
2. The Resources Gap
Public schools do not get enough state funding to offer music, PE or art. These same schools are even further away from being able to buy laptops, 3D printers, and staff skilled enough to run a STEM program that prepares kids to put to use current technology to use to solve real world problems. This “exposure gap” will further exacerbate the skills and income inequality in our country.
In a dream world, all kids would have access to an education like these 60 kids will receive. At the same time, this program is a life raft for these highly talented kids. I also think there is a bit of magic in being surrounded by adults who believe in you; being a “first round draft pick” reinforces your confidence as a player. Even in my brief interactions, I could see these kids were both respectful and super bright. I was honored when they invited me give a talk to the whole group. It was a risky move on their part, however, as I might have converted a few of their STEM scholars to the dark..arts…
Jokes aside, I am trying to get my all my daughter’s female cousins to come stay with us for a couple weeks this summer to attend a tech camp together because I believe that no matter what path they choose, programming and engineering fundamentals will empower them in their careers. Exposure, however brief, brings familiarity and can open up a cascade of different choices for them down the line. My parents sent me to a computer magnet for two years in elementary school and also bought one of the first home computers on the market. No mouse, just a blinking green cursor. Fun! But I learned programming sequences, such as how to make my name glide a thousand times across the screen. While that trick has never proven useful in life, I think my comfort with computers influenced my decision to choose information technology as my first career.
The fact that there were hardly any women in the classes or at the conferences, and none working in the server room with me did influence my decision to leave that line of work that. I don’t want that to be the case for women in tech in the future. However, the skills I learned during those five years were extrememly useful when I wanted to start my own business. For example, I knew how and how important it was to create a nice website that could be found by organic Google search. Fifteen years ago that was a competitive edge! Now it is common knowledge. Tech skills helped get my business started, and elevated my career from “starving artist” category to “self employed”.
Speaking of impressive tech skills, check out this montage I made! All the figures in the mural were from photos of actual students (and Principal Garber acting as referee.)
I had to make the embarassing confession more than once during this project: I don’t follow football. I wasn’t sure what to expect with the players, except that they would be big. They showed up ready and enthusiastic to paint. They were great with the kids. They clearly wanted to be of service. Since I don’t watch them throwing other humans to the ground on Sunday nights, I sleep well with the knowledge that these guys are gentle giants. I should not have been surprised to discover what hard workers they were. At 5:30 PM, with the paparazzi all gone and my van loaded up and ready to go home, I had to cajole a few of the hangers-on to put down their brushes and let go of the work. They were in to it! (Still, their shirts were not as messy as my apron at the end of the day. Go figure.)
I hope you have a spooky Halloween! Boo!