This week in 9 Cisco offices around the world, 220 senior executives modeled some of Cisco’s core values by volunteering to mentor 400 students in STEM (science, technology, education and math). Cisco has been actively engaged in helping the communities in which our employees live and work since the company started in 1984. We do that by donating resources and product to global and community nonprofits and by encouraging our employees to volunteer. Cisco’s volunteer program started in 1992 and often includes matching cash grants for hours that employees work.
Cisco’s senior leadership chose to volunteer for STEM mentoring for two reasons. First, Cisco is a founding leadership partner of US2020, an initiative in America that aims to connect more STEM professionals to students from kindergarten through college. By 2018, there will be 1.2 million U.S. STEM job openings, with a significant shortage of qualified applicants to fill them. This leaves the country without the workforce necessary to fill critical roles, and millions of children without a chance to compete for jobs in one of the strongest sectors of the economy. Cisco is investing in multiple programs to help bridge this skills gap. Our goal as part of US2020 is to have 20% of employees volunteering at least 20 hours a year as STEM mentors by the year 2020.
In addition, education is one of the key initiatives in which Cisco invests globally. Cisco Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) education programs and partnerships improve access to quality education for students worldwide using the combined power of network technology and human collaboration. Our largest CSR program, the Cisco Networking Academy, has 9000 academies in 170 countries and has trained over 5 million students in IT skills since its inception in 1997.
At Cisco headquarters in San Jose, California, Chief Marketing Officer Blair Christie hosted 101 Girl Scouts for an afternoon of STEM mentoring. CEO John Chambers welcomed the group and inspired the audience by sharing his experience of the value of education. “If you have an education in the U.S., you can do anything.” As a mother of two girls, Blair acknowledged that “studying science isn’t hot for girls at this time.” She stressed, however, that “science teaches you how to think” so learning STEM courses could be an important part of a person’s career, whether or not they chose to be an engineer. CIO Rebecca Jacoby further emphasized the message by saying that people use math in many ways in their daily lives. Studying science and technology courses can give students an advantage throughout their lives, as well as help to advance their careers.
Other Cisco offices hosting events included Boxborough, Massachusetts; Richardson, Texas; Lawrenceville, Georgia; Research Triangle Park, North Carolina; Herndon, Virginia; Bedfont Lakes, UK; Bangalore, India; and Singapore. Students came from local nonprofits like the Boys & Girls Club, Shanti Bhavan, and the VETS group and from local colleges like Gwinnett Technical College in Georgia and ITE in Singapore.
Executives in all locations did speed networking with the students – answering questions and sharing wisdom, advice, and career suggestions. In several locations, they also helped students conduct STEM experiments to introduce the youth to the excitement of scientific exploration. Many of the students mentored were from disadvantaged backgrounds, with no people in STEM fields in their lives. STEM mentoring is therefore key to encouraging the students to learn new things and to see themselves as someone who can innovate and succeed in science and technology. As Sonia Sotomayor, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States says, “a role model in the flesh provides more than inspiration; their very existence is confirmation of possibilities one may have every reason to doubt, saying, ‘Yes, someone like me can do this.'”
All of the events were very well received by the students and executives alike. The time and attention from the senior leaders and the encouragement to try new things touched the students’ hearts as well as their minds. That’s powerful motivation to study STEM and to follow their passions to excel in their careers.