“For a long time, experts predicted young people would need to learn Spanish, Mandarin, and Farsi for communicating in the future with people all around the world,” says Ignacio Salazar, President and Chief Executive Officer of SER NATIONAL, the nation’s service, employment, and re-development network. “Now, the language being mentioned most is made up of just two numbers, ones and zeros, because it’s how we communicate with artificial intelligence or AI, the language of robots,” adds Salazar.
That statement summarizes best the outlook on the rapidly growing importance of technology in our global economy and why this is one of the fastest expanding program areas for SER NATIONAL and its network of affiliates. Together, they comprise one of America’s legacy Latino community organizations serving more than 1-million people every year in more than 200 locations and 24 states and Puerto Rico.
“Our robotics program is one of the most exciting new opportunities, and participants are thrilled to be part of it,” says Salazar. “They get hands-on experience with hi-tech, plus they meet notable figures in the sciences like former NASA astronaut, José Hernández. This is why it was so unfortunate when COVID-19 hit followed by severe ice and rainstorms because competition meets had to be canceled. We quickly pivoted from on-site community technology days to hosting virtual events and workshops, mainly for high-school students in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM),” says Salazar.
Elia Quintana, Director of Stakeholder Relations at the American Petroleum Institute (API), affirms the importance of continuing to emphasize STEM and stakeholder partnerships like SER is key, even amid COVID-19 when educational and training programs are having to adapt to changing conditions in communities. “We anticipate over the next decade as many as 1.9-million jobs for communities of color so the early STEM education investment in K-through-12 schools, primarily for Hispanics is crucially important,” says Quintana. “We want these students to be in the pipeline for high-paying jobs and careers in the energy sector. Also, these young men and women can help provide innovative energy solutions while being reflective of the communities we operate in,” she adds.
The financial rewards are one aspect of STEM’s promise for communities of color in the United States and Puerto Rico. Another is the transformative power of the technology curriculum being introduced by SER’s STEM dual-track programs for the first time in some schools with historically underserved populations. “Thank you and the SER team for exposing our Cadets to STEM, and for your continued effort to inspire them to greatness,” says Cedric Williams, USA Retired, Deputy Director, Jr. ROTC program in Ft. Worth, Texas. “The conference was amazing,” says Doreen Stanton, a teacher in Santa Fe, New Mexico. “I am very happy and appreciative that my class was able to participate. Again, thank you for this program. My students loved it. They even had a parade for the school with their floats,” she adds.
“In over 20 states and Puerto Rico, the most gratifying experience for the students and their families is that STEM uplifts, inspires, and motivates them to excel to even greater academic achievements,” says Salazar. “What we have done to encourage that is stimulate deeper, critical thinking with quizzes and challenges that are more of competition within each student than against someone else. The results are amazing. For instance, we handed out twelve questions and then audited at random just one of the answers. That allowed more participants a chance to win. The top prize was an iPad, second place received a laptop, and 33 others were awarded significant tech prizes. Above all, every single student won because they each earned recognition for their individual and team achievements. This is a true win-win,” says Salazar.
Quintana views STEM as a pathway upward and forward for many of these students. “I grew up surrounded by oil fields and never imagined how this industry would enable a woman of color to achieve what I am doing now. API represents more than 600 global companies in energy and the future of America depends on the possibilities of innovation and a diverse workforce can make it a reality. We are strongest when we seek out and utilize the talents of everyone. This makes STEM so powerful and promising.”
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About SER Jobs for Progress National, Inc. – “Cultivating America’s Greatest Resource: People”
The SER Network of Affiliates serves over 1,000,000 people annually. SER is located throughout the country, in more than 24 states and 200 locations. The SER Network provides a variety of comprehensive programs including housing, youth services, GED classes, English language acquisition, early childhood education, older Americans training, women entrepreneurship, Science-Technology-Engineering-Math (STEM), assistance for military Veterans, operations of workforce centers nationally, plus assisting and placing thousands of qualified men and women in unsubsidized employment. https://ser-national.org/