By Dianne Anderson
Kids from Riverside and San Bernardino schools will converge on Bourns Inc. headquarters in Riverside for a conference sure to spark their young inventive minds around cutting-edge technology.
If there is any doubt about how much they crave technology, last year about 5,000 students were put on the waiting list to attend within just hours of opening the call for registration. This year, the frenzy was about the same.
For those that made the cut, the October Step Conference will host K-12 students for an entirely immersive experience and a full lineup of hands-on STEM workshops. They’ll check out some of the latest robotics, a science show, and a chance to win scholarships with mentoring to support them toward future careers.
Khevin Curry, who handles marketing with Bourns Inc., said their STEP Program (Science and Technology Education Partnership) brings dozens of community and education partners in the region, connecting students to high-tech opportunities.
Bourns Inc. is an international electric component manufacturing company. The event is in partnership Riverside County Office of Education, Riverside Unified School District, and many others.
Gordon Bourns, chairman and CEO, is an engineer by trade. His family started the mom and pop company about 70 years ago that has since grown worldwide with strong attention to science and technology for local students.
Many people may not know that the company’s manufacturer components went to the moon with the Apollo landing over fifty years ago. “One of our parts was in the backpacks that the astronauts wore, and some equipment to transfer the signals to NASA when they were walking on the moon,” Curry said.
Through Bourns three local programs, students come into STEM fields with the STEM PULL Academy, a program partner with the Riverside Public Utilities Learning Lab that draws high school students to adjacent technical careers within public utilities. STEM LEAPS program (Law Enforcement and Public Safety) helps students learn about adjacent careers that work with team partners, the fire and police departments.
“High school students come in for a week with each program, and learn about how science and technology integrates into these fields, he said.
Through the program, he said students will brainstorm real-life problems along with their team, and put together their own presentation with a solution. For instance, the fire departments may say their fire retardant clothes are too heavy.
“The kids will come up with a project to solve that problem,” he said. “They’ll present in front of the Mayor in the competition for prizes and a scholarship.”
Kat Shepherd, a technology instructor at the University of Riverside, California Extension, said most careers these days have a built-in demand for STEM proficiency, and the Bourns event is needed for local students.
There is a vast gap of access for kids of color, particularly African American students. To top it off, she said both students and educators have a hard time keeping up with today’s fast-paced technology.
In working with large groups of businesses, it often surprises her to see the disconnect not only exists for disadvantaged children, but also adults trying to get ready for the wider demand of even basic technology.
Shepherd, also Chapter Chair for the Inland Empire SCORE, said their chapter is also stepping up outreach for diversity as part of the recent national campaign. They are seeking more people of color to come out to volunteer and mentor within the business community.
The experience could benefit both those that mentor, and those that receive mentoring through networking opportunities.
She also feels that African Americans should look to develop their business strength. One recent report, the Institute for Policy Studies, found that African American wealth on its current trajectory will fall to zero by 2053.
SCORE, a national program, has over 10,000 volunteers nationwide. She said at least part of the economic solution is getting more of the Black community into a place of business ownership, and strengthening links to business technology.
“With this mind, for a lot of African American people, is to become business owners,” she said. “We are recruiting for mentors in Riverside, and we’re seeking out different organizations to mentor.”
For more information, see www.stepconference.org.
To get or give help, contact Shepherd at firstname.lastname@example.org
This article originally appeared in The Precinct Reporter News Group.