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Pi515 Creating Partnerships to Improve Minority Representation in STEM-Related Careers

Pi515 Members

September 10, 2018

Greater Des Moines (DSM) keeps topping a number of lists throughout the country for our community’s accomplishments. Nationally, DSM is being recognized as a best place to live, work and play. It’s no wonder the city and its leaders are increasingly finding ways to grow our community to be successful for citizens and prospects alike.

These accomplishments, however, cannot let us get complacent. How do we keep making our region a welcoming, diverse and successful place that continues to afford opportunities to all? For starters, we need a playing field where everyone feels welcome and equipped for the challenges and opportunities that arise. Pursuit of Innovation 515, known as Pi515, realized this and executed a pilot program with American Equity Investment LifeInsurance Company over the past spring to work towards the goal of educating underserved students in STEM-related skills that directly can translate to workforce needs.

Creating partnerships

Pi515 was started to confront the lack of minority representation in STEM-related careers. After years of classroom teaching, I noticed something was missing. We needed to start integrating the players in the community that desire this tech worker. We started looking to partner companies in the community that could add real-world training to each class.

What resulted was the partnership between American Equity and Pi515. A team of eight American Equity employees got together and taught the class. Each week, two programmers from American Equity would travel to East High School to help educate the students.

At the end of the class, the students presented their webpages at American Equity. The day included a welcome from the President of American Equity, Ron Grensteiner and the Chief Information and Technology Officer, Ted Hughes, and a presentation on how to best present yourself in interviews and ways to find STEM-careers. The students also spent time job-shadowing developers.

Empowering youth

Rachel Goebel, who is an Application Developer with American Equity and a PI515 volunteer, described it this way to me: “Technology is about thinking creatively, solving problems and building value. That's empowerment. The students spent time with developers who are doing this every day in a business environment and heard our senior leaders speak to the importance of technology.  We hoped this made coding real, that the students did not walk away wondering ‘when will I ever use this?’ We wanted the tools and skills we taught to help the students visualize how they can shape the future, rather than standing by watching the future unfold.”

This program is now branded and can be found at BuildingTheTechPipeline.com.

A big part of our programming involves digital literacy. The skillset to understand Microsoft Word, navigate to your email, know how to build a function in Excel is basic knowledge to many of us. This isn’t the case for most of our students who do not own a home computer.  We are incorporating many elements into our curriculum that are commonplace in order to prepare these students for life after graduation. 

Pi515 will continue to work on partnering with companies to execute its mission of educating underserved students on STEM-skills. The more partnerships we can form, the better the workforce will be equipped to handle the thousands of job vacancies that exist today in STEM careers. If you’re a company looking to partner with Pi515, please email me at mwirotsi@gmail.com.

Jumbo Jenga tournament

To continue and grow our programs, we are hosting our second fundraiser. Unlike many of the traditional fundraisers, we wanted to make ours interactive and collaborative. We settled on a Jumbo Jenga Tournament and we are asking for sponsors and participants to join in the fun. If you’d like to participate or support our cause, please contact Anne Roth at anneroth1@gmail.com.

Through the Global DSM international talent strategy, The Partnership works to establish Greater Des Moines (DSM) as a global community attracting and retaining foreign-born persons to the region. Check out more Global DSM stories.

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.