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Innovation in STEM – Why Diversity Matters

Posted on Tuesday, January 7, 2014

On Thursday, January 23, 2014, Angela Messer, Executive Vice President, Booz Allen Hamilton, was the featured speaker at the annual ARCS Foundation Metro Washington Chapter’s (MWC) Speaker Series. Angie has recently been asked to lead Booz Allen’s client services related to global threats to include cyber, insider and virtual world threat actors. Booz Allen has been at the forefront of strategy and technology consulting for 100 years. The firm provides services primarily to the U.S. government, and to major corporations, institutions, and not-for-profit organizations. Booz Allen is also a major sponsor of ARCS/MWC. This year’s series topic was “Innovation in STEM – Why Diversity Matters.” Almost 70 people attended, including MWC members; ARCS scholars; corporate partners; and other ARCS friends and supporters.

Caren Merrick, a co-founder of webMethods, an enterprise software company acquired by Software AG in 2007, and a current partner in Bibury Partners, was the MWC interviewer. Caren started by asking Angie why she chose to study engineering at West Point. Angie said that her family had a history of U.S. military service—her father and grandfather had both served--and that her mother, a first-generation Cuban-American, was extremely proud of the United States. These factors, coupled with the influence of two teachers who were role models, shaped Angie’s decision to attend West Point and her early career paths. Fast forward to today. She noted how important science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines are to Booz Allen, describing the synergy created by diverse viewpoints within project teams. When asked how today’s students could better tackle STEM goals, she highlighted several strategies that resonated with the audience. Angie stressed inter-weaving traditional values (e.g., family support, and individual and corporate volunteer commitments) with innovative team approaches, supplementing U.S. government and educational system efforts. She also emphasized both the importance of partnerships, citing Booz Allen’s many collaborations with universities and professional associations, and the need to continuously promote STEM interaction with students in middle and high schools (even elementary school), using fun, engaging, and relevant approaches. She cited two Booz Allen examples: employees volunteering with Girl Scouts on STEM-related projects; and a company contest for college and high school students, sponsored with university partners, featuring a typical problem the company might face (high school students won, showing the importance of outreach to that age level). To retain STEM expertise within corporations, Angie advised seeking and accepting ideas from all staff, including junior staff, and fostering a “speak up” environment.

In conclusion, Angie reminded us that everyone needs to be personally engaged in promoting STEM and that “it takes a village.” She closed to a rousing ovation and was peppered with questions and comments addressing all stages of education, ranging from engaging very young children to considering students’ varying social and economic needs in building STEM programs to supporting specific populations within schools (e.g., establishing support programs in colleges for returning veterans who wish to enter (stay in) STEM fields).