Connecting with the Next Generation of STEM Leaders

Corey Carter, a GDIT program manager based in Springfield, Va., has spent the last several months visiting classrooms—virtually and in-person—in St. Louis to talk about his work and about his atypical and inspiring career path in STEM.

By: USGIF  | May 25, 2022

GDIT has long been a partner to the geospatial community in St. Louis. Last year we expanded our footprint there with a new home in the city’s Cortex Innovation Community (CIC), making a significant investment and continuing our commitment to the region.

More recently, part of that commitment has also involved driving innovation and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) talent development locally. One way we do that is by working with partners like STEM Board and the Little Bit Foundation to send GDIT speakers into area schools to talk about the plethora of careers and the opportunities in the field, building capacity and a diverse talent pool ready and able to make an impact.

Corey Carter, a GDIT program manager based in Springfield, Va., has spent the last several months visiting classrooms—virtually and in-person—in St. Louis to talk about his work and about his atypical and inspiring career path in STEM.

“Many of the schools I visit don’t even have formal STEM programs,” he said. “These schools are under-resourced, serving underprivileged kids, and many of these kids have never seen an engineer who looks like them. When I go in and talk to the students, we start with what STEM is, how technology plays a role in their everyday lives, and how to get involved in doing STEM work.”

Corey often points to an iPhone as a relatable example of technology and how students interact with the people powering those devices. He talks with them about the people who answer Help Desks, or who code applications for the phone, or who run the network infrastructure that enables everything a person does on a device.

“Once we get students excited about technology, then we tackle the next challenge, which is helping them understand the paths they can take and what’s possible with a career in STEM.” Corey does that with “Lingo Kits,” provided by STEM Board, that give students real-world STEM tasks to complete—like building a prototype back-up camera for a Tesla.

“It’s incredible to watch the students go from ‘I can’t do that,’ to ‘OK, well if I just do this and then this…’ to ‘Oh wow, I did that’ in the span of just a couple of days,” Corey said.

Corey recalled asking one group of students: Who wants to be an engineer? He said lots of hands went up. Then, when he asked: Who knows someone who is an engineer? No hands went up.

“I had to correct them,” he said. “You know me. I’m an engineer. Now, you know an engineer.”

Corey says that’s precisely the kind of impact he wants to have. He tells the students how he started as a help desk technician, then became a system administrator, then systems engineer, then a program manager. He acknowledges that coding isn’t for everyone, and that’s OK. There’s so much more to STEM beyond software development, and if students can get exposed to STEM activities and get involved in the field now in some way, there will be more open doors for them in the future—whether that involves pursuing higher education, taking a certification course or joining the military as he did.

Corey said he recalled a gentleman who came to speak to his high school class several years ago. The man talked about decision-making and how the decisions young people make can have long-term consequences. Corey said this man’s talk had such a huge impact on him that when he was asked to visit classrooms in St. Louis for GDIT, he called the man up to ask for advice.

“He cried,” Corey said. “He appreciated me calling and telling him the impact he’d had on me. That’s what I want to do for these kids.” Corey said that while he’s the first GDIT speaker to visit St. Louis classrooms, he knows, based on the questions and feedback he’s gotten from peers, that he won’t be the last.

We know it too, Corey.

Thanks for showcasing the “art of the possible” to these students, in more ways than one.

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