Paving the way to permanent change in STEM

Paving the way to permanent change in STEM

December 08, 2021 | by Contributor


Career and technical education (CTE) makes a difference by inspiring young women to explore careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).

Women are drastically underrepresented, representing only 27% of the STEM workforce in 2019. But how can we make real, permanent change? Enter IGNITE Worldwide. This nonprofit works with educators to promote STEM education and career advancement for students from historically marginalized communities. IGNITE Worldwide welcomes any student who identifies as female, nonbinary, transgender or agender. Their mission: to achieve greater gender and racial diversity in STEM classes, clubs, opportunities and careers.

Since the first event took place in 2000, more than 100,000 students have participated in the IGNITE program. The events — grounded in best practices that reflect years of feedback from educators, students and volunteers — attract students to explore careers in fields like cybersecurity, coding and informatics. And, after attending IGNITE events, the students not only know more about what STEM is but also feel encouraged
to participate in STEM classes and clubs that they previously viewed as intimidating or male-dominated.

In the Seattle Public Schools, where IGNITE began, young women and nonbinary students once filled only one or two seats (if any at all) in high school technology classes. After six years of IGNITE in Seattle, Washington, they then claimed an average of 40%–50% of the seats in information technology programs (National Alliance for Partnerships in Equity, 2007).

IGNITE events have the power to change perspectives and increase access to educational opportunities.

Educators receive dedicated training and reliable resources they can use to recruit and retain students in STEM. “Together, we’re making space for permanent change within the education system,” said Cathi Rodgveller, founder and CEO of IGNITE Worldwide.

The offerings provided by IGNITE are simple and flexible, requiring minimal effort from teachers. With events occurring during the school day, teachers can incorporate IGNITE into their yearly planning. Further, these innovative learning experiences facilitate unique opportunities to connect with students.

Powerful women leaders bring the magic of CTE to diverse groups of secondary students.

Serving various roles within STEM companies, IGNITE volunteers share inspirational stories, engage in hands-on work- shop activities, and participate in candid panel presentations that engage and inspire students toward careers in STEM. Liz Bander works as a senior program manager at Microsoft. She also serves as a dedicated IGNITE volunteer, advocate and advisory board member. And, while the IGNITE program changes students’ perceptions of STEM and career trajectories, some might argue that the volunteers get just as much out of IGNITE events as the students.

Bander offers an incredible example of how the IGNITE Worldwide program and its participants are interconnected. IGNITE recruits diverse volunteers from its partnering and sponsoring companies. They strive to create a network of STEM professionals who are passionate about encouraging girls and other underrepresented students to strive for more. This is key. Diversity in the IGNITE volunteer network encourages better connections with participating students. After all, you can’t be what you can’t see.

“When diverse, powerful leaders in CTE come together, the magic begins,” commented Rodgveller. “Not the magic of fairy tales and wishful fantasies, but the power that comes from knowing someone came before you. And now they’re here to guide, support and provide encouragement as you forge ahead toward graduation, higher education and a meaningful career.”

Increase access to career opportunities in STEM.

Our world is facing many challenges, and we must collaborate to address climate change, systemic racism and poverty. Getting to gender parity is one part of the equation. But we must also reach students from low-income areas who have been historically excluded from STEM. For this reason, IGNITE Worldwide prioritizes removing barriers and facilitating access to high-wage, high-demand careers in STEM.

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