Step one to volunteering: Find something you really love to do. For people the tech community, that might mean sharing their passion and excitement for technology, science, engineering, coding, and math. Fortunately in the Austin area, there are many opportunities for you give back to the community. But a few notes before you head out:
- Our sources tell us that STEM professionals should also consider volunteering with programs and organizations that are not STEM-focused. For example, Kristin Gossett, president of Junior Achievement of Central Texas, said that at a recent career day, there were 40+ professionals signed up but zero were from STEM careers. So make sure to get out beyond your field. Junior Achievement is a great choice. I’ve volunteered in the classroom with JA myself, and being in a 6th-grade classroom was fascinating, plus they give you total support and a complete curriculum to follow. You’ll learn a lot!
- Sometimes you’ll see fewer girls in programs that specify engineering, science, or technology careers. Another way to reach them is by volunteering in a general career fair or other event. You’ll find a wider array of students and might even capture the attention of students who didn’t think they were interested in a STEM career.
- I think this goes without saying, but if you are a woman or a minority currently with a career in STEM, please find a way to get involved. Under-represented groups will continue to be under-represented if young people don’t see role models for themselves in that career. Remember, even a few hours of positive adult interaction with a young person can make a difference in their life.
- Gossett adds: “Another option is contacting CTE (Career & Technology Education) leaders at districts or nearby campuses. They are responsible for recruiting industry professionals for a wide range of activities and interface with teachers, students and NPOs. Most campuses also have Business & Industry and STEM Councils volunteers could serve on to make a strategic Impact. Increasingly campuses have MakerSpaces that need volunteers, programming and equipment. Title I schools often get grants to get them going and don’t have the parent or industry support to run them at capacity. Same for computer labs. There is a wide disparity in the resources for engineering, coding type courses on local campuses. Sadly, we’ve seen engineering courses being taught by permanent subs without STEM education or experience. Volunteers could make a huge difference in those situations where the students deserve the rigor and exposure to the course in which they’re enrolled.
Now for a list of great opportunities in STEM!
Support an after-school club for Latinitas – The girls AND the nonprofit both need you! College students wanted to help facilitate media and tech lessons that focus on digital media publishing, production, cultural literacy, design, and more to elementary and middle school girls. Check out lots of other opportunities with Latinitas in the classroom, at special events like the Startup Chica Conference, and in the community.
Be a role model for a future STEM professional – Your first step should be to check out the TexasSTEM Connection, part of the Greater Austin STEM ecosystem, a cross-sector collaboration to create a single source for STEM volunteer connections across the state. Through in-person matches and virtual sessions, professionals can help educators and program providers connect their students to the world of STEM. Create a volunteer profile and learn about opportunities in your area.
Help run a STEM conference for girls – Girlstart‘s annual STEM conference is coming up on March 23, and they’ll need lots of volunteers to check-in, assist in workshops, help manage the traffic and more. Great one-day opportunity, and you’re guaranteed to be inspired and hopeful for the future of technology – and girls.
Teach coding and web development skills to under-represented Austin students – Code2College provides access and opportunities in Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics (STEM) fields to students from underrepresented backgrounds in tech. Volunteers make this nonprofit run, so contact them to learn more.
Coach kids in a computer lab – This one with the Austin Public Library is a bigger commitment – two-hour Saturdays, twice a month for six months – but the rewards are awesome. This spot is an opportunity to share your computer skills with youth and help bridge the digital divide. Hone your computer, communication, and teaching skills on your resume!
Be a role model and help kids stick to their coding work – Help them stay on task with their STEM-based, computer coding, hands-on electronics projects. You’ll love the work of My Brother’s Keeper, which through its Coding Makerspace and After-school Coding Programs, use STEM to help give kids a sense of belonging. Volunteers who are STEM and computer professionals from ethnically diverse backgrounds are especially needed to participate as tech role models for East Austin students.
Volunteer to coach and judge a STEM competition – E4 Youth is developing virtual storytelling curriculum for high school A/V production and journalism using Mozilla’s A-frame technology. Founder Carl Settles says they’ll be implementing the curriculum with several local schools late March, with the contest being announces later this month. Expect to volunteer 2-6 hours in April.
Women engineers, learn about the Society of Women Engineers opportunities – Help at Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day, SXSW EDU, events at Thinkery and more. Opportunities throughout the year.
Help adults become more proficient on computers – Skillpoint Alliance needs volunteers to help with the Empower Computer Proficiency Program, an educational program geared towards equipping adults with the technological skills needed to achieve their personal and career goals. They’re looking for patient volunteers who can speak English or Spanish and will help adults build confidence on the computer.
Help middle-school students learn to love math – Want to help students with math? Enjoy working with middle school students? Then the Math Classroom Coaching (MCC) program by Austin Partners in Education is for you! Help us help students increase their understanding of math AND their confidence in their own ability to solve math problems.
Help young people grow in character and skills as they explore their curiosity about STEM fields – STEMScouts is a co-ed program of Boy Scouts of America. It offers weekly lab meetings and field trips for students from elementary school to high school. While not every campus offers a lab, the good news is they’d be happy to help you start a lab at a school near you. Take the lead on this one and you can change lives.
PHOTO: Austin girls learn more about STEM careers at Latinitas’ Startup Chica Conference.