Pete Gegen
Pete Gegen shares insight
on how to start and sustain
STEM volunteerism in
articles published here
and on LinkedIn.

Part nine in a series. “Voices of IBM Volunteers” is part of the SkillsBuild program to reach one million young people a year through STEM-related volunteering (the goal for 2018 was achieved in June). Watch the video (YouTube, 04:20)

The drive to close the global skills gap is among IBM’s most important initiatives. SkillsBuild calls on IBM volunteers to promote activities that enable digital literacy with young people, introduce them to hands-on problem solving, and sparks their interest in STEM learning—using resources and support on the IBM Volunteers web site.

In the series, IBM volunteers share their passion and perspective, in their own words, on what it means to be a volunteer and the positive impact we can all have on society.

IBM volunteer: Pete Gegen, IBM consulting services portfolio manager

How to get started as a volunteer for a K-12 STEM activity

In 2011 I made a $500 decision that changed my life and changed my community.

I spent the money on a LEGO Mindstorms NXT kit to start a FIRST LEGO League (FLL) team. I didn't know anything about FLL. But I knew my daughters and their classmates were ready to experience a science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) activity in ways that weren't available to students younger than high school age. I was ready to volunteer my time and spend money to create the experience for them.

Seven years and more than a thousand volunteer hours later, we now have hundreds of students in grades K through 12 involved in long-term STEM activities. Parents who never thought of themselves as qualified to be STEM volunteers are now coaches and mentors. Organizations throughout central Illinois come to our annual STEM Fair.

How did it happen? Over those seven years I became something of a serial entrepreneur when it comes to starting STEM activities. Identify community needs, find the organizations or programs, and make it happen. I invest hours and the return is students (including my own daughters) ready to engage in science, technology, engineering, and math.

IBM has always been supportive of my STEM volunteer work, and this year provided additional resources in its SkillsBuild initiative for volunteers like me to reach one million students in 2018 with STEM activities (which we accomplished months ahead of schedule!).

It is fairly easy to volunteer at a one-time event. It is harder to make the decision that I made in 2011 to invest personal time and money into a long-term STEM program, one that I feel has a much greater impact on students.

Since SkillsBuild is a multi-year effort—to reach one million students every year for five years—and to encourage others to make the leap I did, I am writing a series of articles on starting STEM activities.

You may not know what to start. You may not like the feeling of having no idea what you are about to get yourself into. But if you want to volunteer and make a difference, you can do it. I will explain how in the series—which will be published here and on LinkedIn.

The series will include starting STEM activities for robotics, computer programming, cyber defense, and math, plus working with schools on science activities and organizing a STEM fair to promote it all.

[Look for Pete’s next article to appear in September, “K-12 STEM Volunteering—Starting a Robotics Club.”]

For over 100 years, IBMers have created positive change in the world through their day-to-day work and their service in local communities. Since 2004, nearly 300,000 IBM employees and retirees have contributed more than 20 million hours of volunteer service.

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About these stories

Read about IBMers whose volunteer efforts are improving communities around the world.

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