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Inspiring Refugee Kids in DSM USA to Pursue Careers in STEM

Pi515 Stem Education Event in DSM USA

October 24, 2017

When I started a dance class for young African girls, I never dreamed it would evolve into a non-profit focused on teaching STEM skills to the refugee and underserved student population. I wanted to provide new residents of Greater Des Moines (DSM) resources to lift themselves up.

The future of job growth in STEM fields is well known. By 2020, there will be 1.5 million new technology jobs in the U.S. but roughly 70 percent of the U.S. tech jobs will go unfulfilledAlthough, according to the National Science Foundation, of the 6.4 million employed scientists and engineers with degrees, minorities make up just under 700,000 or just 10 percent.

STEM in Iowa

Recently, it was highlighted there are 12,400 job vacancies in STEM occupations in Iowa and STEM occupations make up 17 percent of all Iowa jobs, slated to grow 1.2 percent annually to 2024. The potential for our students to earn good paying, in-demand jobs is high — and growing the talent pool right here in DSM can be a boon for business.

Pursuit of Innovation 515, known by many as Pi515, works with at-risk, low-income immigrant and refugee youth ages 11-17 in DSM teaching them practical technology skills that help them become more confident learners and place them on the path to success.

By helping minority youth, especially girls, develop skills and explore occupations in STEM, Pursuit of Innovation 515 can help them overcome the barriers of language, culture and isolation and develop them as self-sufficient young professionals. In the long run, this will help to reduce racial and gender disparity in the workforce — particularly in the growing STEM sector.

Students in the organization’s programs also attend workshops that help them learn how to manage money, create a savings plan for college, and develop communication skills that can help them in the classroom and when seeking employment. Through participation in the organization’s programs, students feel empowered to take control of their destiny, overcome social, cultural, and economic barriers, and aspire to a future that includes higher education and rewarding employment. By encouraging young people to succeed in school and avoid risky behavior, Pursuit of Innovation 515 can provide a platform for them to gain access to a growing STEM landscape and escape the cycle of poverty, ensuring that they (and their children) will not end up in the same place they might be today.

Jumbo Jenga Tournament

To continue and grow our programs, we are hosting our first ever fundraiser. Unlike many of the traditional fundraisers, we wanted to make ours interactive and collaborative. We settled on a Jumbo Jenga Tournament, asking for sponsors and participants to join in the fun. If you’d like to support our cause, please donate here.

We’re grateful to already have big tech names on as sponsors for this event including Hatchlings, Technology Association of Iowa, and Gravitate as well as community leaders and companies that understand the importance of diversity in technology like Business Record, c3 Marketing, Des Moines University, DLR Group, DMACC, Electronic Engineering, Suku Radia and Tej and Karen Dhawan. 

From a dance class grown into a robust STEM nonprofit organization — Pursuit of Innovation 515 serves a unique purpose in DSM. As a community, we must come together to support a more diverse STEM talent pool to fill the jobs today and tomorrow from talent groomed right here in Iowa.

Nancy Mwirotsi

Nancy Mwirotsi, a native of Kenya, is Founder and Executive Director of Pi515. She lives in Altoona with her daughter Riziki. Mwirotsi was recently named one of Iowa International Center's Passport to Prosperity winners for her work as an immigrant for the refugee and immigrant community.