By 2018, it is estimated there will be 1.2 million U.S. job openings in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields. While that sounds like good news, there is an acute shortage of qualified applicants to fill these jobs. The students in our schools today simply don’t have the skills and desire needed to compete for these jobs, which means that our country won’t have the necessary workforce to fill critical roles in one of the strongest sectors of the economy.

Research shows that for kids to become interested in STEM careers, they must feel inspired. They need some sort of connection or a role model to look to for guidance. This is where Cisco sees a need that can be filled by its employees.

Cisco is a founding leadership partner of US2020, an all-hands-on-deck initiative that aims to connect more STEM professionals to students from kindergarten through college. As part of the US2020 initiative, Cisco will build on the expertise of its workforce and culture of giving back, with the goal of having 20 percent or more of employees volunteering at least 20 hours a year as STEM mentors by the year 2020.

Cisco's US2020 mentoring initiative gets underway in San Jose, California
Cisco’s US2020 mentoring initiative gets underway in San Jose, California

Last week, Cisco launched its US2020 STEM mentoring initiative with volunteer events at four sites – San Jose, California; Research Triangle Park (RTP), North Carolina; Lawrenceville, Georgia; and Richardson, Texas.

In San Jose, more than 60 girls from Techbridge were on Cisco’s campus to participate in STEM mentoring with 88 Cisco employees. The girls participated in a human network game, the dissection of computers, and an exploration of Cisco WebEx software – all activities to get to know Cisco employees and learn about their careers.

“I learned that in order to send an email, a packet of information might travel all the way across the country before getting to your inbox,” said Anaztajia, a 6th grader from Ocala Middle School in East San Jose.

In RTP, 85 Cisco employee volunteers mentored more than 60 Wake and Durham County middle school students. During speed mentoring, students had the opportunity to get one-on-one time with numerous Cisco employees and learn about their jobs. The hands-on activities included robot building, engineering demos of circuit building, 3D printing, and pedal-a-watt to make a phone ring.

“When I got here, I didn’t like science at all, but after driving a robot I realize science is really cool,” said Moriah, a 6th grader.

A Cisco volunteer in RTP mentors a student at the launch event
A Cisco volunteer in RTP mentors a student at the launch event

In Lawrenceville, 150 middle school students were on Cisco’s campus to work with 70 employee volunteers. They heard about the importance of STEM, saw a Cisco TelePresence demo, and even got to work with a robotics team in a hands-on activity. Some employees brought in their own children to participate in the activities.

“My daughter was impressed and we had a great bonding day,” said a Lawrenceville Cisco employee. “In fact I think she finally understood what I do for my job.”

Cisco's US2020 launch event in Lawrenceville, Georgia
Cisco’s US2020 launch event in Lawrenceville, Georgia

In Richardson, Cisco employee volunteers mentored 50 10th grade STEM Academy students in a variety of different roles. The students took tours of the engineering labs and saw a Cisco TelePresence demo. They participated in speed mentoring and got some hands-on training on how to build an Ethernet cable.

All of the events were a huge success with the kids, volunteers, and teachers asking when the next event would be. Kids love field trips and hands-on activities, Cisco employees love giving back and passing on their expertise, and both have come together to work toward a better future for our students and our country as a whole.

STEM mentoring at Cisco's Richardson, Texas campus
STEM mentoring at Cisco’s Richardson, Texas campus

Learn more: Check out the US2020 website and read more about the San Jose event in the Silicon Beat blog in the San Jose Mercury News.