Access to a science, technology, engineering and math education — what is commonly referred to as STEM — can start students on the pathway to rewarding careers in technology. However, not all young people have access to a quality STEM education. The coronavirus has accelerated the use of digital technologies to a greater extent than ever before and amplified the gap between communities that have access to the tools and training needed for high-paying jobs in tech and those that don’t. More than ever, underserved communities need support and education to help ensure residents are qualified for tech-related careers.
Recognizing how impactful a STEM education can be, Virginia Commonwealth University’s College of Engineering has committed to opening up learning opportunities for students who may fall outside of the typical pool of applicants. “Fifty percent of our students are first generation and more than 50% are from underserved populations,” says Barbara D. Boyan, Ph.D., dean of VCU College of Engineering. With programs like CodeVA, which brings STEM teaching to K-12 students in the Richmond area and provides professional development training for teachers, VCU is building a diverse pipeline of young people who want to pursue a technology degree. “We have a series of programs designed to teach engineering principles in age- and development-appropriate ways — and to make learning fun,” Boyan says.
VCU was founded in 1996 as a public-private partnership, with students and faculty collaborating with industries and communities to research cutting-edge technologies across many fields, including sustainability, clean energy, health care and regenerative medicine. The school’s philosophy is to look at education through a lens of entrepreneurship, and faculty encourage students to not only immerse themselves in their studies, but to look for real-world applications for their work.
In 2021, Bank of America, a supporter of VCU since 2007, committed $1 million to the university’s engineering programs, part of the bank’s $1.25 billion, five-year commitment to advance racial equality and economic opportunity. The funding will support programs to expand access to a technology education and engage thousands of K-12 students in engineering outreach experiences.