A Seat at the Table: How Onsite Experiences Position Students for Futures in STEM
Zebra employees in Taiwan host one-day tech camp for FIRST® Robotics Competition students.
Do you remember the first time you walked into a corporate office? Maybe it was “Bring Your Child to Work Day,” or maybe your sitter got sick and called off last minute, forcing you to tag along with a parent. Or perhaps it was the first day of an internship. Either way, it was likely memorable. For some, though, the chance to step foot inside such an office remains elusive.
That’s part of the reason why Zebra employees have been volunteering their time with FIRST® (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) for the past 20+ years. We want to help lower the barrier of entry to working in science, tech, engineering and math (STEM) fields. There are many students who view STEM careers as “dream jobs.” We want to turn those aspirations into reality. That starts by making STEM careers accessible to all.
The First Step
The corporate world can be daunting. But we see an opportunity with our FIRST relationship to make STEM more approachable for children and teens who might not have otherwise had the chance to come face-to-face with corporate technologists – students who never thought it possible to actually work for a company with $4.5 billion in annual revenue.
Though we have supported FIRST in many ways over the years through mentorship and technology, we most recently endeavored to create a one-day immersive technology camp experience for students in Taiwan. We believe that welcoming students into our office to experience the collaborative nature of day-to-day operations is key to building the bridge from what’s “now” to what’s “next.” So, we invited them to spend a day on Zebra’s Taiwan campus to see how the work they’re doing building competition robots can translate into the real world. We hope they will see that they can become groundbreaking innovators building disruptive technologies, no matter their background.
How Students Spent Their Day at the Zebra Taiwan Office
Because the students were only able to join the Zebra team for one day, we did our best to show them how the skills and knowledge they’re gaining through school and FIRST competitions can create a bridge to STEM careers. Our comprehensive curriculum covered things such as:
- How Zebra uses many of the technologies and software programs that students are already familiar with to innovate for its customers.
- How to give presentations in English.
- How to navigate the STEM field with Inclusion and Diversity (I&D) in mind.
- What it’s like to intern with Zebra.
We started off the day with an overview of some of our healthcare solutions, which was timely given the continued impacts of COVID-19. We discussed everything from the engineering considerations that must be made to ensure the reliability, durability and safety of hardware used in the medical field to the cloud-based application software used to power our contact tracing solution for front-line workers. Students were able to see how the same concepts and materials they use to build robots have real-world applications.
The next session was the “Women in Tech Forum” hosted by members of the Zebra Women’s Inclusion Network (WIN). This allowed the girls in attendance to connect with women who have successfully built careers in the field and learn how to navigate situations where they might be the only female in the room. Male students in attendance had the opportunity to learn how and why it’s important to foster an inclusive environment and be mindful of unconscious biases. The panel featured the female team leader of FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) high school team 8121, a female coach of FRC 7497 (who teaches at an all-boys school) and female Zebra employees with extensive experience in STEM. Each panelist shared their stories and experiences about what it’s like to be a woman working in technology.
One panelist pointed out that women make up only 30% of the technology workforce on average across the Group of Seven (G7) countries. Another panelist highlighted the importance of building a diverse team, noting that differing opinions lead to better decision-making. She encouraged women and girls to confidently sit at the table and speak up so that their ideas can be heard.
Later in the day, one employee volunteer provided tips for giving presentations in English. Both FIRST® and Zebra are global organizations headquartered in the United States where English is the primary language. While English is a compulsory subject from Grade 3 and up in Taiwan, learning how to communicate effectively to English-speaking audiences is an important skill to hone when planning a future that will involve working with global entities.
Finally, Zebra engineering interns advised students on transitional experiences. The interns spoke about the process of applying to universities and graduate schools, what subjects can be studied under the engineering umbrella and what career options are available for engineering majors. One intern remarked that it’s more important to choose the subject you’re interested in rather than the school that you think is “best.” Some students might not have as many choices due to geographic location, affordability or entrant requirements, but they shouldn’t let that get in their way, as any form of continued education is valuable.
All in all, the experience was extremely valuable for the 25 students and three teachers in attendance as well as the 16 Zebra employees and interns who volunteered to host the event.
To be honest, I can’t believe that it has been just over a year since we first reached out to FIRST teams in Taiwan. While Zebra employees have mentored student FRC teams across the U.S. for 20+ years, working with FIRST in Taiwan was new for us. Since then, we’ve become fast friends, and this tech camp is evidence of the strength of our partnership. I am pleased that we’ve made great progress in such a short span of time. Our work with FIRST is more than a source of pride here at Zebra. It’s a catalyst for our future.
Special thank-you to ESUN Robot Association for facilitating a wonderful partnership between Zebra Technologies and FIRST teams in Taiwan.
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