How Can We Foster a Long-Lasting STEM Interest in Young Women?

Sponsored by CGI

Lashonda Dean, Raychel Wooten, and Staceylyn Machi. Photos courtesy of CGI.

Lashonda Dean, Raychel Wooten, and Staceylyn Machi. Photos courtesy of CGI.

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How can we spark an interest in STEM in young women — fostering more female tech talent who can make their mark on companies worldwide? This isn't an easy question to answer; however, three leaders at CGI are participating in innovative projects under the STEM@CGI program to help underrepresented students learn more about technology.

These three thought leaders have taken the time to sit down with us and discuss their projects, which have already resulted in tangible benefits for many young women.

Lashonda Dean, a Consultant, tells us about STEM@CGI, a CGI-wide program to increase diversity in STEM by introducing, inspiring, and mentoring students — with a particular focus on underrepresented groups. 

Director of Consulting Services at CGI, Raychel Wooten, shares how CGI actively works to mentor and develop girls at all academic levels — from elementary school through college. 

Staceylyn Machi, Director of Consulting Services at CGI, will give us a glimpse into the CGI IT Girl Challenge, a scalable competition where teams of female-identifying students are introduced and mentored about the IT industry.

Read on to learn more about this inspiring work.

1. STEM@CGI with Lashonda Dean.

What is STEM@CGI, how is it beneficial and what is your role?

STEM@CGI exists to introduce, inspire and mentor students to help increase diversity in the IT industry. The program focuses on underrepresented groups in STEM, including students who are female, Black, Latino, Indigenous, have disabilities and/or are economically underserved. 

STEM@CGI benefits women by providing direct opportunities to engage girls and women in technology fields through intentionally partnering with community organizations that serve girls and create programming and standalone assets and relevant activities that girls can engage in on their own.  

In my role, I provide the framework, best practices, and expertise needed to implement STEM events across the U.S. I support member engagement with their local community partners by working with them to uncover their specific student needs and opportunities. 

What were some specific positive outcomes from STEM@CGI?

Our K-12 STEM program has served over 16,000 students across the U.S., with hundreds of CGI members volunteering their time and expertise. STEM@CGI began with three new hires in Lafayette, LA, who saw a need and developed a concept to meet it. Since then, the program has grown to operate across the U.S. and the world through the CGI network. 

Participants of the STEM@CGI program. Photo courtesy of CGI.

Do you have any personal stories from your work in STEM@CGI to share?

Zarie S. first encountered STEM@CGI in middle school through involvement with a community organization called New Vision Leadership. Through her involvement with our program over several years, Zarie continuously developed her technology skills. In 2021, she was one of the winning app challenge team members in Louisiana's 3rd Congressional District. Then, in the summer of 2021, she became a high school intern for us and trained other CGI members on how to mentor students. 

Her story is an example of how one initiative to educate and inspire girls in STEM can create opportunities that will nurture the future success of girls in STEM. We hope her CGI story continues by interning with us in college – however, we know she will be successful in whatever she chooses to do and are honored to be a piece of her journey. 

STEM@CGI members Keejwana Branch, Anne Swanson, Lashonda Dean, Nicolette Darjean. Photo courtesy of CGI.

What are you most proud of about STEM@CGI?

Our program continues to impact the most underrepresented students in long-lasting ways. The students develop a passion for something they never thought possible. I am most proud of how we, as women in the technology industry, can be the multifaceted inspiration that girls and others underrepresented in STEM need. 

By connecting the students we serve to relevant STEM learning, industry experience, career preparedness, consulting development and relationship building, regardless of the career path they choose in the end, these opportunities will nurture their futures for years to come. 

Learn more about STEM@CGI projects across the U.S. from Raychel and Staceylyn.

2: Raychel Wooten shares how STEM@CGI supports programs for girls of all ages.

You have taken part in projects at CGI that focus on developing female tech talent at different ages. Describe these projects and their benefits.

I have supported projects that mentor and develop girls at all academic levels, including:

  • Showcasing the creative and fun side of programming to elementary school children at a young age.

  • Hosting STEM camps for high school students that help prepare them for college and provide actual examples of IT career paths and the educational steps needed to pursue them.

  • Participating in panels at local colleges where we discuss challenges unique to women in IT, outline our career paths, offer advice and insight, enable students to grow their professional networks and participate in Q&As with students.

Our work has a broad reach and benefits many girls and women. For example, the first STEM camp we hosted with Regions Bank reached seven Birmingham City Schools and 250+ high school students.

As for my role, I created and taught curriculums on building games in Scratch, which we have used in partnership with local elementary and high school programs. These lesson plans aim to teach the fundamentals of object-oriented programming while allowing each student to individualize and customize each game to their liking. This lesson is one of more than 100 available through the STEM@CGI program available on our  STEM@CGI at home page.

Raychel Wooten teaching students Scratch programming. Photo courtesy of CGI.

What are you most proud of about this work? 

I am proud of how many students we have introduced to programming and IT who may not have had exposure otherwise.

I am also always amazed at the creativity that comes from each young woman when they build their games in Scratch. It reinforces the value of continuing to diversify the IT industry.

3: Exploring The IT Girl Challenge with Staceylyn Machi.

Please tell us more about the IT Girl Challenge and your involvement.

The IT Girl Challenge aims to accelerate CGI's commitment to women (and other underrepresented persons) in technology by proactively investing in girls through STEM through the STEM@CGI program.

To do so, the IT Girl Challenge involves having a team of two-to-four female-identifying students identify a problem to solve using a drag-and-drop application over a defined time period. Students are matched with mentors from both a technical and functional perspective at CGI, and, in Pittsburgh, we've paired them with female University students studying Computer Science.

This is an amazing opportunity for students to experience a timed challenge, connect with senior leaders in the organization, learn how to use drag-and-drop code, think about front-end and back-end development, enhance their video creation skills and work through a project from development to completion. 

At the end of the competition, teams are judged on their innovation, creativity, technical implementation and more. The winners receive a $20,000 scholarship to be shared by the team evenly. Winners are selected by CGI judges and local tech industry executives and experts who value making a difference and might one day decide to hire these fabulous women.

I've participated in the IT Girl Challenge by wearing a few different hats — as a mentor, co-lead, advisor and someone who collaborated with others to develop this as a scalable and repeatable program.

The 2021 IT Girl Challenge winners. Photo courtesy of CGI.

Do you have any personal stories or stories from the IT Girl Challenge? 

My favorite experience happened just a few years ago when I was in the role of a mentor. We were about midway through the first challenge, and I was representing the functional mentor. I had built a great rapport with the two students, Isabel and Kiera. We were on a Teams call and all of a sudden, they voiced their frustration about not knowing what to do with a roadblock they encountered in coding, which caused them to delete all of their work to date. This presented a chance to do some true mentoring. We sat in our emotions for a couple of minutes, and I honored the frustration and sadness of this situation. Then, we talked about all the ways we could move forward. 

The team decided to recover their code, define the problem at hand, ask our technical mentor for more support, and search the internet for tips, tools, video tutorials, and other ways they could solve this challenge. We put a game plan in place and looked at all the things that needed to be done before the end of the challenge. They started from scratch, implemented their game plan and executed it with creativity, innovation and the determination to succeed. That's exactly what they did and they ended up winning the Challenge. I cried upon seeing their names on the certificate during our virtual ceremony. I was so proud of them. And today, they're still at it, pursuing life with grit and persistence and doing great things in college. 

Do you think other companies would benefit from similar programs/initiatives?

Absolutely. Any time a company can find ways to give back to members of their communities in a way that makes a difference to the intended audience, it's a no-brainer!

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