DSC8496.jpgAs part of the TIDES program, the Helmsley Trust invited teams from the universities that had received the grants to attend a weeklong institute at Georgetown University in July. CECS dean S.K. Ramesh was part of the CSUN team at the institute, and it was there that the Helmsley Trust’s program officer learned about the many CSUN programs to increase diversity in STEM disciplines.

After the institute, Ramesh returned to California, then left for India. “The day I arrived in India, I got an e-mail from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy saying, ‘We’re planning to host a series of STEM Education Workshops this fall with support from the Helmsley Trust and learned about some of the great STEM programs in the California State University system and Northridge in particular. Would you be interested in hosting one of the four workshops this fall?’” he recalls. “And that’s how it started.”

The Helmsley Trust had been partnering with the White House, which in January 2014 convened a special summit on access to higher education in America. An outgrowth of the summit was four White House STEM Education Workshops, one of which was sponsored by the Helmsley Trust. On October 7, CSUN hosted a workshop that focused on several important themes: connections to careers in industry, introductory course redesign, freshman/sophomore research initiatives, and college readiness and pathways to STEM disciplines. Approximately 75 leaders from academia, government and industry across the country took part.

“Connecting people to their future careers and industry is vital as we embark on this national imperative,” Ramesh says. “We really need to involve industry and employers up front, not as an add-on at the end.”

DSC0345.jpgThe day opened with welcoming remarks by Pat Falcone, associate director for national security and international affairs, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy; CSUN president Dianne Harrison; and Rich McKeon and Ryan Kelsey from the Helmsley Trust. The morning plenary session featured a panel of female leaders in STEM—Tamika Lang, western region manager for global corporate citizenship for Boeing; Peggy Nelson, vice president of the Aerospace Division, and head of global engineering for Northrop Grumman; and Anna Park, CEO of Great Minds in STEM—who talked about college opportunity and career pathways. Following working sessions, a second plenary session in the afternoon addressed barriers, opportunities and success and featured Dawn Digrius, senior project manager for STEM collaboratives for the CSU; Melissa Dubois, STEM hub director for the Oregon Institute of Technology; and Dianne Harrison, President of CSUN.

The workshop ended with a five-minute testimonial by graduating senior Melissa Flores, former president of CSUN’s ASME chapter, who had taken part in the AIMS2 program. She spoke about how she came to the U.S. from Mexico and described how she had ultimately made it into Northrop Grumman’s internship program. She brought down the house and received a standing ovation.

A second White House College Opportunity Summit took place December 4, 2014 to consolidate best practices and confirm action plans and commitments from a diverse range of stakeholders.