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Parents as Partners in Outreach

How do we include parents in our outreach efforts and give them the resources they need to encourage their children to pursue a career in STEM?
Parents As Partners In Outreach

By Shelley Stracener, SWE Editorial Board

This article is part of a SWE Magazine series called Inclusive Outreach.

No matter their geography, socioeconomic status, or cultural background, parents have one thing in common – they all want the best possible future for their children. Without our influence, though, they may not know how to get there.

The SWE Dallas Section hosts students, parents, and educators at their Design Your World STEM Conference for Girls, held twice yearly since 2012. Here, attendees at Southern Methodist University’s campus enjoy an engineering fashion show, where local women engineers explain how their work clothes protect them or their products.

SWE members volunteer boundless time and energy to local activities, but are we helping those most in need of what we have to offer? What about the families in less affluent areas where there are no engineers or programs in place to introduce them to STEM? How do we reach parents, the strongest influencers of their children’s career choices, and give them the resources to encourage their children down the path to a STEM career?

Meet Parents Where They Are

Utilize existing community connection points like public libraries that provide computers and activity rooms. Engage school district representatives to help publicize your event and coordinate event sign-ups for families who don’t have internet access at home.

Students at the Dallas SWE Design Your World STEM Conference, held at Eastfield College, designed functional prosthetic hands from everyday items during a biomedical engineering session sponsored by Abbott.

Diversify Your Perspectives

Include parent sessions with panels of engineering educators and recent graduates who will share their personal stories to reassure parents that a career in engineering is a good — but challenging — choice. Explain the advantages of engineering careers including starting salaries and benefits. Expand upon the variety of career options and industry applications. Highlight the problem-solving nature of engineering careers and encourage parents to daily exercise their child’s curiosity about how the world works.

Illuminate the Path

Outline example class choice strategies including taking higher level math and science classes early on so their students are well-prepared for college. Go over the college and scholarship application process so parents know what to expect and can help their children make good choices. Remind them that community colleges are a great way to save on college costs for basic course-work and solidify good study habits on the way to a 4-year degree. Provide parents with a list of STEM learning resources for kids such as SWE Next, Engineer Girl, Engineer Your Life, Fab Fems, and The Connectory.

Lennox International volunteers helped students at the Dallas SWE Design Your World STEM Conference at Eastfield College with temperature sensor circuits and software using Arduino microcontrollers.

Partner Up

Don’t be afraid to partner with other local diversity organizations with similar mission statements to SWE’s, such as SHPE and NSBE. Local chapters of technical societies with outreach goals are also great allies in developing educational activities.

In 2017, I challenge you to evaluate the status quo in your Outreach activities, step outside your comfort zone, and change your strategies to make the greatest impact!

Read more of our Inclusive Outreach articles in SWE Magazine’s Winter Issue 2017 and in our other blog posts: