The Power of Collaboration: Fuel for the Million Girls Moonshot

The Power of Collaboration: Fuel for the Million Girls Moonshot

Photo Credit: The 50 State Afterschool Network

As students returned to classrooms and afterschool programs this fall, many for the first time in a year and a half, the STEM community has a lot of catching up to do. During COVID-19, learning suffered especially in STEM subjects and disproportionately affected students of color according to the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago.

The good news? We have already been laying the foundation for the 2021-2022 school year to accelerate learning with the launch of our Million Girl Moonshot (MGM). But making MGM a reality requires a collection of like-minded companies. Creating universal access to quality STEM learning outside of the classroom requires buy-in and collaboration from partners across the country and from all sectors. The STEM community must embark on this mission collectively.

That’s why we are incredibly excited to announce our collaboration with one of the world’s leading wireless technology leaders, Qualcomm Incorporated.

Over the last five years, Qualcomm has invested $30M towards 160 STEM programs across the world. Similar to STEM Next, Qualcomm envisions a diverse and inclusive future STEM workforce made possible by advancing STEM education for students at all levels and from all backgrounds. During MGM’s launch last year, Qualcomm was a supportive inaugural funder and visionary leader that helped MGM create its strong–and growing–coalition of like-minded organizations.

“As technology leaders and a company of inventors, we are committed to providing a diverse array of future innovators with the skills and knowledge to solve global challenges and join our workforce,” said Áine Shivnan, vice president of program management at Qualcomm Technologies, Inc.. I had the pleasure of collaborating with Áine in July during the  21st Century Community Learning Centers (21st CCLC) Grant Program 2021 Summer Symposium hosted by the U.S. Department of Education.

At the Symposium, Áine and I spoke about the impact mentorship has on young women in STEM, particularly in 21st Century Community Learning Centers. An important facet of MGM, mentorship is imperative to girls’ success in STEM learning and future careers. In fact, a recent report by Microsoft shows that only 60 percent of girls understand the relevancy of STEM to their personal and professional lives — and a lack of mentorship opportunities is a major culprit.

And while teacher mentorship is gaining momentum across the country, student mentorship programs get little time during the school day. This is where afterschool and summer experiences like MGM can play a critical role connecting young girls to high-quality STEM mentorship programs.

In practice, these settings look like 21st Century Community Learning Centers (21st CCLC). 21st CCLCs are local afterschool, before-school and summer learning programs that serve over 2 million youth across the country. The majority of the attendees identified as Hispanic (39.0 percent), white (25.0 percent) and Black (20.5 percent). When 21st CCLCs house STEM programs, girls have better access to one-on-one mentorship opportunities that may not be available during school hours.

What’s more impressive is the impact high-quality STEM programs have on the greater community and future workforce. Women make up half of the total U.S. college-educated workforce of 58.9 million workers, but represent much lower shares of STEM workers. Investments in STEM learning for the youth of America today will lead to social and economic benefits for society as a whole in the future.

Looking ahead, STEM Next is thrilled to see the progress of MGM be bolstered by companies like Qualcomm through these invaluable mentorship opportunities in 21st CCLCs. When partners are connected with a similar goal and mission, initiatives like the Million Girl Moonshot can become a reality.