According to the U.S. Department of Education, only 16 percent of American high school seniors are interested in pursuing a college degree or related career in STEM fields.
That’s not good news for an agency whose mission is built on expertise in science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM.
For more than 25 years, volunteers from the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency and its legacy organizations have built relationships with schools across the Washington, D.C., and St. Louis regions, as well as a growing number of NGA Support Team locations, to promote STEM-related concepts in the classroom as part of the agency’s Partners in Education outreach program.
The PIE program matches subject matter experts to kids of all backgrounds and skill levels, exposing them to potential career fields and hopefully inspiring them in STEM subjects.
These connections to community, and youth in particular, have never been more vital.
“It’s a program that thinks very long term by connecting NGA to a community that could help bring a new group of people to work for us in the future,” said Bill Florich, an NGA employee in St. Louis who joined PIE 11 years ago.
PIE volunteers share their GEOINT knowledge with students through initiatives, including guest speaker programs, mentor and tutoring opportunities, pen pals, and science fair judging.
For many PIE volunteers, representing NGA to diverse groups of inquisitive and technologically-savvy students inevitably challenges them to see beyond the daily grind.
“No organization or entity should isolate itself from the community at large,” said Florich. “PIE forces me to step out of my daily working life and explain the value of what I do to others. I actually understand my mission better through PIE.”
NGA has recognized that STEM education among the youth in the local community not only creates a bond to the region, but also serves as a method for anticipating and developing talent investment needs for the future.
“When I was in school, I learned math but didn’t know why I was learning it or how it would apply to real-world issues,” said first-time PIE volunteer Adam B. “The PIE program with its emphasis on STEM education helps students see how their coursework [could prepare] them for future NGA employment.”
PIE volunteers are spearheading efforts to expand the scope of the program’s outreach to include St. Louis City and the outlying neighborhoods of the Ferguson-Florissant School District.
In St. Louis, representatives from InnoVision and the Office of Aeronautical Navigation have led efforts to partner the PIE program with Gateway STEM High School in St. Louis City. Volunteers offer support for aviation and robotics, as well as building school presentations.
“Having a tutor to help support our teaching staff ensures we can reach more students,” said Renée Racette, assistant principal at Gateway STEM High School. “Connecting students with [PIE] tutors is a fantastic way for them to see how the broader subjects they are learning connect to the real world.”