Engineers Unite to Advance STEM Awareness

By | 3 minute read | February 13, 2019

If I had a philosophy about my career, it might be something like: “It’s not about ‘giving back.’ Instead, it’s about being part of a community, and contributing to it.” Like most of us from the variety of technology companies that call the former IBM Essex Junction site home, I don’t consider myself an outsider who’s here on assignment. I consider myself both an IBMer and a Vermonter with a passion for service.

The author (left) with a sixth grade class during Engineers Week

In addition to personnel from Global Foundries and other companies, Essex Junction houses employees from a variety of IBM divisions, including many of the Systems Group engineers who design and test the processors for what we believe are the gold standards for enterprise servers – IBM’s zSystems mainframe and POWER systems. Since we spend our days in the lab, getting out into the community yields multiple benefits. On the personal level, community engagement provides needed balance and fosters camaraderie among our team of women and men from every age group, and from all around the world. And on a broader scale, community service helps those in immediate need, helps prepare a solid foundation for advancement for the next generation, and brings all of us closer together.

Engineers Week serves as an annual focal point for a commitment to service that, for many of us, runs through every season and throughout an entire IBM career.

My wife is from Vermont, and we’ve raised two daughters here – educating them in the public schools. While it wasn’t unusual for them to be exposed to STEM concepts and careers because of my background, a lot of young people – especially girls and young women – aren’t as fortunate. They may have the talent, but not the motivation because they don’t have an appropriate role model, or simply because they are unaware of the exciting things one can do in a STEM career. That’s why my fellow volunteers and I make a special effort to engage sixth graders at such a critical time for their STEM learning.

Learning about solar energy during Engineers Week

Each year during Engineers Week, we reach between 400 and 500 sixth graders across northern Vermont through a variety of exciting programs. Our millennial employees and other early-career professionals love getting out to share, teach and learn from young students. About 50 percent of the students we interact with are girls, so that’s an encouraging sign for the pipeline for women into STEM study and professions. In addition, the IBM Women’s Interest Network partners with Vermont Works for Women to help engage female students at the high school and community college levels – partly through an annual conference that Vermont Technical College hosts for top STEM students from across the state.

Engineers from our site – along with many retired IBMers – also are heavily involved in the National Engineers Foundation annual DiscoverE initiative (which kicks off March 6), IBM’s annual Employee Charitable Contribution Campaign (ECCC), and our award-winning work with the United Way of Northwest Vermont, where I serve on the Board of Directors.

Superheroes make an appearance during the annual Essex Junction Food Sculpture Competition

Among our biggest and most popular events is the annual “Food Sculpture” competition among the Essex Junction companies. The competition typically generates donations of 8,000 to 10,000 pounds of food per year for distribution to about 15 shelters around the state. And with the United Way, our spring and fall Days of Caring events coordinate volunteers to build and staff woodland camps for young people, and build homes with Green Mountain Habitat for Humanity

A tuna made of tuna cans

Once again, it’s about balance. As much as I appreciate the privilege of chairing the United Way’s Community Campaign – through which I raise money from about 50 companies each year to support employment, substance abuse and other types of programs – it’s great to get out with a group of 20 to 30 IBMers to get our hands dirty and help people in real time.

Engineers Week is a great touchpoint through which we raise awareness of STEM education and careers, and reach out to young people to help inspire them to get on the STEM track. But it’s just one of a variety of longer- and shorter-term initiatives that inspire our employees, help attract top talent to IBM, and give all of us a chance to strengthen the communities where we work, and which we call home.

Curt Guenther manages microprocessor product and reliability engineering at IBM in Essex Junction, Vermont.