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Improving Diversity in STEM Education

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Michelle Mann
Michelle Mann

As we celebrate the contributions of Black and African Americans this month, we must also reflect on key challenges to diversity, equity and inclusion that remain in STEM fields. Across the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) workforce, the lack of representation and opportunity for Black Americans is evident. As of 2022, Black professionals accounted for 7.4% of the tech workforce (U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission).

The lack of representation relates not only to today’s STEM workforce, but also to the STEM talent pipeline. The good news is that there are ways to help tackle equity challenges. Many companies, like NetApp, are making strides to foster equity in STEM education. No one company or organization can tackle this challenge alone, but if we collaborate, we can make a difference. Through corporate philanthropy partnerships, employee volunteerism and issues advocacy, companies can help enable greater diversity and inclusion in IT and STEM fields.

At NetApp®, addressing needs of underrepresented populations in under-resourced communities is foundational to our social impact objectives. As a leader in cloud and data-driven solutions, we recognize data fluency as one of many skills needed for future STEM careers, any career for that matter. We believe that data empowers students to become change agents in making the world a better place. That's why we're focused on filling big gaps in data literacy education, particularly in marginalized communities. We fundamentally believe that all students should be able to unlock the full potential that data affords.

NetApp Data Explorers

In 2020, NetApp created Data Explorers, a hands-on after-school program that empowers teens to develop critical data science skills that help prepare them to thrive in a data-driven world. The program rallies behind two underlying beliefs:

  • Students as young as ages 11 to 16 have the aptitude to learn core data science concepts and explore the role that data plays in their own lives.
  • Students care deeply about societal issues within their own communities, and they want to be able to problem-solve to take effective action.

Our Data Explorers curriculum uses real-life datasets that align with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals on issues ranging from high-quality education to health equity and climate change. It also involves students looking at data from their own communities, and with the help of NetApp employee volunteers, students manage social issues projects while learning about the application of data across a variety of careers.

Since the program’s inception, over 2,000 students in four countries have participated in Data Explorers. Feedback from participants, educators and partners tells us that students:

  • Seek out complex topics that they want to understand more deeply, and they have a strong desire to help their local communities.
  • Appreciate the freedom to choose their own social issue projects and share their data-backed ideas for change.
  • Value meeting and hearing from data science professionals about how they are using data in diverse career settings.

We work with local STEM, youth development, and education nonprofits to bring the hands-on experience, free of charge, to underrepresented students in under resourced communities in our office locations. For example, In North Carolina, we work with the Boys and Girls Club of Durham and Orange Counties, offering children from all economic, cultural, and social backgrounds the opportunities to thrive. 94% of their students are of minority races or ethnicity, and 92% qualify for free or reduced lunch. With the Boys & Girls Club, 50 students have enjoyed the chance to make a change in their communities. 

“Data Explorers has really shined a light on who I can be and how I can help people.”

—A female teen student in Durham, North Carolina

“I did not expect such amazing feedback and interaction and hands-on energy [from the students]. It’s really nice to see.”

—Boys & Girls Clubs of Durham educator

Data Explorers is giving students a sense of social responsibility. One of the Durham students shared that Data Explorers “helped me realize there are problems we can fix.”

In the name of enabling meaningful societal change, NetApp is expanding Data Explorers with a goal of reaching 5,000 additional students in the next two years. We’re committed to continuing our investment in data education programs, helping to lay a foundation that increases opportunity for youth from underserved communities.

As Nelson Mandela once said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

Learn more

Learn more:

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pie chart of netapp data explorers

Michelle Mann

Michelle is an established social impact leader with more than 20 years of experience designing and implementing CSR and social impact programs for international companies. Her expertise is grounded in signature program development, skills-based volunteerism, cross-sector partnership-building, and integrated brand communications delivering impact for business and society.

Michelle’s deep knowledge and passion for youth development, STEM education, and social action can be seen through the experiences of youth from across the globe via programs she created including NetApp Data Explorers.

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