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Why Intel’s Jennifer Sanchez is helping evolve STEAM education in Arizona

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Intel began operations in Arizona in 1979 and is currently expanding by building two new semiconductor factories, a $20 billion project predetermined to create thousands of high-tech jobs over the next several years.

This latest Arizona expansion provides an opportunity for Intel to increase its overall talent, including, in part, its diverse talent. students in the fields that are critical for Intel and its expansion. 

In Arizona, Intel is focused on addressing issues that will make our community a more vibrant place for everyone, and we work with nonprofits and community leaders to realize the power of our collective action. Key to our RISE strategy is our mission to enable positive change. Our new Equity in STEAM Initiative is propelling that mission forward through funding the work of educators passionate about being a resource for students, including women and people of color facing systemic barriers in their pursuit of a career in science, technology, engineering, arts or mathematics. Jennifer (Jenn) Sanchez, community affairs manager for Intel’s Public Affairs team in Arizona, developed and currently spearheads the program.

In honor of the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Intel joined the community at the 27 Annual Chandler Multicultural Festival to announce the inaugural cohort of grantees of this year’s initiative. I recently spoke with Jenn about the importance of the project and its meaning to her; read our conversation below. 

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Hi Jenn, could you tell me a little about the work you do here at Intel?

I spend most of my workday helping make sure Intel is a good neighbor in the community, specifically those neighborhoods that touch our Arizona sites, and as we grow.

I also oversee Intel Arizona’s Pre-K -12 strategic program, specifically around STEAM: science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics. Most of my work in this is supported by the idea of the School-to-STEAM pipeline, where students from marginalized backgrounds, through access to STEAM education, can grow into a career that suits them most in the field. 

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Your recent partnership with YWCA Metro Phoenix is a large part of your work on the School-to-STEAM pipeline, correct?

Yes, our collaboration is called Equity in STEAM Initiative—a program designed to address the grand canyon of injustices preventing some women and people of color from pursuing and growing within careers in STEAM across the nation and within Arizona.

The initiative will work to amplify the voices of 20 cohort members from educators to nonprofit administrators in Arizona. Members will receive an Intel-backed grant of $2,500 to implement a program or project to increase the representation of women and people of color in STEAM. YWCA will lead the cohort through leadership training to identify the potential barriers in STEAM and develop solutions to make sure STEAM education is more inclusive and accessible, regardless of zip code.

Can you define social equity and explain its impact on outcomes for those who may not be familiar with the topic?

Social equity means regardless of factors like race, ethnicity, gender, economic status, or physical and mental disability, no one should face systemic barriers and we all should have access to the same opportunities and outcomes in our lives.

Educational attainment is a key determinant for an individual’s quality of life. A student’s zip code heavily influences the quality of education they will receive. An estimated 14% of Arizona’s total population live in poverty—Black and Latinx families being twice as likely to live in poverty versus white families. This means that students, specifically students of color, who endure the brunt of poverty need to have access to a quality education to improve their standard of living. [And in an evolving workforce, it’s paramount that students from these backgrounds are receiving the resources and support during their educational journey that will make them competitive in the job hunt.]

In Arizona, people of Hispanic descent make up the largest student group in public K-12 schools at approximately 45% of enrollment. However, Latinx enrollment vastly decreases in higher education, as the group makes up only a third of all Arizona community college students and only one fourth of the state’s university students. 

In contrast, white students’ enrollment is approximately 40% at public schools. Their representation increases at both community colleges (44%) and universities (51%). 

The data is clear— there’s a discrepancy in representation between the two racial groups during the transition from public K-12 schools to higher education.

That data is striking, thank you. So, the School-to-STEAM Pipeline is a major contributor to helping Intel recruit more diverse talent?

That’s the goal. At a company where our mission is to enrich lives, we want to be sure members of our society reach their potential, and we try to help remove any roadblocks.  

Why is it valuable for community members to name the issues they’re facing?

I believe storytelling is important if we are going to be able to make progress with the School-to-STEAM pipeline and a major part of that is Intel being receptive to the expertise of those on the ground who make a direct impact on the lives of students every day. Those on the ground are in constant connection with our community and their voices and beliefs on the matter are incredibly important if we are to make progress on this issue. 

Can you tell me about a few members of the inaugural cohort?

Yes, I will start with Girls Innovation Academy (GIA) at Albarma Elementary in Phoenix! GIA’s goal is to promote innovative experiences to inspire a pathway to science, technology, and engineering. Being that they’re in their infancy, they will be using Intel grant funding to develop a program called “STEAMpowered for the Present and Future,” where experts in the field of STEAM will be able to mentor staff and provide support for project-based teaching and learning.

 

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Photo courtesy of YWCA Metropolitan PhoenixFuture Stars, Inc.  is another organization whose work comes to mind. Their goal is to engage low-income and minority elementary and middle school students at the Faye Gray Recreation Center and Muriel Smith Recreation Center in South Phoenix. This year, they need some support for their eight-month Hands-On STEM Program and STEM Fair where students will be able to engage in numerous STEAM related activities.

 

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Photo courtesy of YWCA Metropolitan Phoenix

I want to mention the work of the Kyrene Traditional Academy! They’re a public school based here in Chandler with a vision for students to utilize fundamental and higher-level thinking skills to achieve academic success. Kyrene is creating a program called “I STEAM Ahead!” where students will create a project composed of three major sections on areas such as 3D printing, coding robots, functions of the body and how machines support our everyday lives.

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 Photo courtesy of YWCA Metropolitan Phoenix

Have there been any moments in your career or educational journey when you’ve experienced forms of social inequity in real time?

I’m one of the 5% of U.S. Latinos who has earned a master’s degree, compared to 45% of my white peers. But I often wonder how many students, people from at-hope zip codes were pushed out or away from reaching their potential and going after their dreams. 

In high school, when I wanted to raise money to become an exchange student, my counselor, a Latina, told me this opportunity wasn’t for “lower-socioeconomic students.” I had to go home and check the dictionary for the definition. My sisters, best friend and I sold cupcakes at [a local] K-Mart for a quarter, but I couldn’t raise enough money to go. Luckily, I was able to find a few donors to help make my goal a reality. Thanks to their help, I ended up spending my senior year attending high school in the Outback in Western Australia.

That experience was a catalyst for me to make things happen -- with support from others -- for myself. After I graduated from the University of Texas at Austin, I called each of my donors to say thanks for supporting my goal of being an exchange student that gave me the motivation to become the first in my family to graduate from college in five generations.  

As a journalism freshman in college, I had a white English teacher tell me my writing style was not up to the caliber of my peers and I should change my major. At one of my first newspapers, the editor, a white woman, told me my writing was not up to par with my peers. I reported for over a decade across the United States and Mexico and became a nationally recognized award-winning journalist.  

From my experience as a Chicana and first-generation college graduate in five generations of Sanchez family members who grew up in an at-hope neighborhood in El Paso, Texas, I understand why some students may need some intentional inspiration in the face of barriers to their success caused by factors out of their control.  

 

 

 

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Photo courtesy of YWCA Metropolitan Phoenix

 

How can this project positively impact both Arizona and the United States’ semiconductor industry?

The great thing about this project is that it brings together leaders from across Arizona to better understand the potential barriers within different communities and identify tools and methods that can be used to close the “Grand Canyon” of women and people of color in STEAM. In addition, I am happy to know students in Arizona will have access to culturally relevant education that will encourage them on their path towards a career in STEAM. 

Recently, the Semiconductor Industry Association stated investing in “basic research, STEM education, and workforce development” is key to strengthening the global supply chain for the next decade of innovation. At Intel, it’s our goal as key stakeholder in this industry to increase diversity in our workforce—which is reflected in our 2030 commitment to make technology fully inclusive and expand digital readiness. Through this partnership with YWCA, we are taking the necessary actions to ensure all Arizonans can participate in a workforce that is crucial to the needs of our world, especially as the enrollment of students of color in the Arizonan education system continues at a historic high.  

What’s next for the Equity in STEAM Initiative?

From February to April, our cohort members will be attending a series of leadership sessions to uplift their advocacy efforts and assist with the development of programs which will prepare the next generation of changemakers for Arizona’s rapidly evolving workforce.

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Photo courtesy of YWCA Metropolitan Phoenix

 For information on our cohort members, our partner YWCA Metro Phoenix and other change making projects we’ve done here in Arizona, visit the links below.

Intel in Arizona

YWCA Metropolitan Phoenix

Equity in STEAM Initiative

 

 

1 Comment
KateDee
Employee

Amazing. It's an honor to work with Jenn and learn from her. Jenn, your ability to tell stories and humanize the people behind our technology and in our communities is outstanding. Those teachers were wrong, because clearly diverse perspectives, languages, and cultures help us all grow. You've led such impactful work and I look forward to seeing what's next for you, your team, Intel, and these organizations.