Lighting the path
Raytheon, Univ. of Arizona inspire Native Americans to pursue STEM careers
Travis Lee grew up on a Navajo reservation in Dilkon, Arizona. Although he wasn’t exposed to high technology, he did have a love for building structures and a genuine curiosity about how things worked.
When Lee reached junior high, his mother knew he needed a more academically challenging environment than the reservation could offer, so she transferred him to a new school. That’s when Lee developed a passion for engineering and decided to go to college.
“I am an example that it is possible for Native Americans to pursue a higher education in STEM and succeed,” said Lee, a sophomore majoring in architectural engineering at the University of Arizona in Tucson.
Lee is among the just .4 percent of Native Americans represented in science, technology, engineering and math fields — collectively known as STEM. As today’s STEM workforce retires, the talent pool isn’t growing fast enough to fill the demand. Native Americans could help meet these future workforce needs.
That is why the Raytheon American Indian Network employee resource group, known as RAIN, is partnering with the University of Arizona’s Native SOAR program to mentor students like Lee.
RAIN members host monthly workshops where they discuss their personal experiences with undergraduates and lead hands-on activities that teach what it means to have a STEM career.
“Mentors share life experiences and give advice that can help with career paths, and they also provide guidance and encouragement to stay on track,” said Rachel Yellowhair, a Raytheon information technology manager and RAIN volunteer.
Undergraduate students enrolled in the school’s three-unit SOAR course learn how to mentor high school and middle school students and serve as agents of change in their communities.
Lee is one of those mentors and is embracing the role, helping others navigate the journey to a higher education and future STEM career.
“My mentee knows he’s able to overcome the same obstacles I have,” Lee said. “It’s great to hear him say, 'Your story is so similar to mine. If you can do it, then I can, too.’”
View employment opportunities at Raytheon in Tucson.