Raytheon Marks a Decade of MathMovesU
Company invests more than $125 million to improve math and science education
Pam Wickham's 14-year-old nephew loved video games. Really loved video games. So she was surprised one Thanksgiving family dinner when he mentioned he had signed up for a woodworking class at school. Woodworking?
"I'd never seem him with a block of wood, but he could talk all day long about video games," she said. As the mashed potatoes and stuffing made their way around the table, the two talked about science and the engineers who build video games for a living. Her nephew's interest was piqued. Back at school, he talked it over with his science teacher, took out $150 from his savings to buy a fancy calculator, and developed an interest in science that continues a decade later. Today Wickham's nephew works as a software programmer in IT security.
Sometimes, Wickham knew, all it takes is a nudge to get people interested in science, technology, engineering or math, commonly known as the STEM fields. As Raytheon's vice president of corporate affairs and communications, Wickham was at the time in the midst of launching MathMovesU®, the company's answer to the nation's STEM education crisis.
In the United States, students were slipping further behind in STEM excellence. Interest in STEM education was waning and test scores were plummeting, and despite an increased demand for STEM workers, the pool of STEM graduates was shrinking. As a company that relied on engineering talent, Raytheon felt a responsibility to help turn this around.
"MathMovesU helped us not only bring attention to a national need for an increased focus on STEM education, but it helped us meet a very specific business goal — ensuring a robust and diverse pipeline of future engineers for the company," said Wickham.
A decade later, Raytheon has invested more than $125 million in STEM education initiatives as part of MathMovesU, and its employees have volunteered hundreds of thousands of hours to support math and science programs that encourage students to pursue STEM education and careers.
"Math and science education is what's needed to drive innovation in today's global economy," said Wickham. "We need to teach the STEM skills necessary for the jobs of tomorrow."
A STEM ODYSSEY
Erick Aponte is one of those young professionals who benefited from a nudge from MathMovesU.
As a high schooler in Lawrence, Massachusetts, Aponte had no interest in STEM. He had never even met an engineer. Instead, he planned to pursue a career in finance and follow in the footsteps of his brother, who was studying business at Boston College.
That all changed when Aponte joined Stand & Deliver, one of a host of Raytheon MathMovesU-sponsored programs that steer students toward STEM fields. Through Stand & Deliver, Aponte learned about the life of an engineer and discovered that he liked the sound of it — a lot. With the support of his Stand & Deliver mentors, he joined his high school robotics team, researched the best college engineering programs and worked on submitting his college applications. He eventually earned a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering at the University of Massachusetts before joining Raytheon in the company's failure analysis lab in Andover, Mass.
"Ever since I was little, I loved to tinker with things but I never knew an engineer or what they did. I was going to be a financial advisor," said Aponte, who became a Stand & Deliver mentor himself to a high school student after starting at Raytheon. Aponte's STEM learning odyssey isn't over yet. He recently began pursuing a master's degree in electrical engineering at Virginia Tech.
"Nowadays everyone uses technology," he said. "It's important for people to know math and science no matter what field you go into."
FOCUSING ON YOUNGER STUDENTS
From its creation, MathMovesU's focus on encouraging STEM education allowed Raytheon to link its corporate social responsibility strategy with its business strategy of creating a pipeline of talented engineers-to-be who would one day join the workforce and strengthen the U.S. economy. The focus on STEM aligned exactly with Raytheon's brand, values and culture.
"It was a natural fit for us," said Wickham. "We are a company of engineers."
MathMovesU started by focusing on students in college but soon shifted to high school, middle school and even elementary school as data emerged showing that students develop (and sometimes lose) an interest in STEM at an early age.
Engineering is Elementary®, developed by the Museum of Science, Boston, is one of the programs that Raytheon has partnered with as part of MathMovesU to help teachers integrate, science, technology, engineering and math into their daily curriculum. It offers professional development workshops, and Raytheon has provided scholarships for nearly 500 teachers to receive training to implement the Engineering is Elementary curriculum in their classrooms.
As the name implies, Engineering is Elementary fosters STEM learning as early as elementary school, when many children first develop an interest in STEM fields. Raytheon has also helped bring the Engineering is Elementary curriculum to tens of thousands of students in school districts in Arizona, Alabama and Washington, D.C.
Christine Cunningham, Engineering is Elementary's founder and director, said the focus on younger students has been an important shift since MathMovesU was created. "Engineering at the elementary school level did not exist 10 years ago," Cunningham said. She told of an elementary school student in Framingham, Massachusetts, who with her class had designed a water filtration system using cotton balls and sand. The next summer when visiting family in the Dominican Republic, the girl arranged to meet with local engineers about the desalinization of the local water supply.
"If you want kids to pursue careers in engineering, they need to know what engineers do," Cunningham said.
A PERSONAL INTEREST
For Sharon O'Neal, the first female senior fellow in Raytheon's missile systems business, the interest in teaching students STEM was personal. O'Neal hoped to expose her third-grade twin daughters to the love of math and science that had led her to a 30-year engineering career. So she created a MathMovesU event in Tucson, Ariz., with hands-on activities to get elementary and middle school students excited about STEM careers.
Now called the STEM Adventure, the event that O'Neal created 13 years ago has given 80,000 K-12 students, teachers and parents a fun experience with science, technology, engineering and math. O'Neal recently created a second event focused on cybersecurity — a 72-hour "hackathon" at the University of Arizona in which teams of college students try to hack 16 drones. More than 400 college students competed in the first event, called Hack Arizona, and the second is already being planned.
And her daughters? Now 21, both followed their mother's footsteps in pursuing an interest in STEM. One is studying mechanical engineering while the other is studying neuroscience and physiology.
Wickham, who drove the development of MathMovesU a decade ago, said it's the personal stories that best demonstrate the success of Raytheon's commitment to STEM education. "If you can change one person's life, that's why this matters," she said.
The success of MathMovesU attracted interest from Raytheon employees across the company who saw an opportunity to support STEM education in their local communities. Recognizing the need globally, Raytheon expanded the MathMovesU program to include many international initiatives. For example, in 2007 the company joined Questacon, Australia's National Science and Technology Centre, to inspire young Australians to study STEM. The partnership supported the development of the "Imagination Factory," a hands-on exhibition that helps students learn systems engineering.
And after the success of MathAlive!, the company's traveling museum exhibition, in the United States, Raytheon developed an Arabic-version for the Middle East. The exhibition, launched in 2013 at the Abu Dhabi Science Festival, has traveled to seven locations in four Gulf region countries, and most recently made two stops in Doha, Qatar.
MathAlive! is designed to bring to life the math behind the things young people love most — video games, sports, robotics and more — creating interactive and immersive experiences that help spark a lasting interest in math and science.
"Games are second nature to this generation. So you play a game with them, they will not even know they are doing math," said Dr Amain Erbad of Qatar University, which hosted the exhibition in October. "So that is the beauty. They are enjoying, they are learning math, and hopefully, that will translate into the classroom."