How high school students can jump-start STEM careers with BAE programs

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For this episode of Get Tech Smart, we’ll meet Laurel Skiff of BAE Systems, a defense contractor that is one of the top 10 largest companies and employers in New Hampshire. Laurel Skiff, the company’s community, pre- and early-career outreach program lead, will walk us through the four STEM programs BAE offers to high school students. These programs provide incredible and valuable hands-on opportunities in STEM through BAE’s intensive programs and internships, including:

  • STEM Talks Virtual Program
  • Engineering Career Day
  • Women In Technology
  • Focus

This interview has been edited lightly for length and clarity.

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Get Tech Smart host Flo Nicolas and Lauren Skiff of BAE Systems.

Flo Nicholas: Welcome everyone to another episode of Get Tech Smart. I am your host, Flo Nicholas. And I am excited today to finally welcome a representative from a huge company that’s right here in New Hampshire. Today we have BAE Systems. Welcome, Laurel Skiff. Before we get into the details, I want to say that I’m really happy that you are here because one thing that a lot of people in New Hampshire don’t see is just how many community outreach programs are available from big companies that are right here in New Hampshire, especially BAE. Today we’ll talk about the pre- and early-career outreach programs (BAE offers). Laurel, welcome to Get Tech Smart.

Laurel Skiff: Thank you very much. We appreciate the opportunity to be here and talk about what we’re doing regarding our community outreach as it relates to STEM.

Flo Nicholas:  If you go on the BAE website and look at the community outreach program, there’s a lot available. And I don’t think many people know about them. I found out about the BAE Community Outreach program because I have a neighbor whose daughters participated. So, let’s talk about four programs that are available. One of them that’s dear to me because I’m an advocate for women in technology. 

Laurel Skiff: I’ll start with just a little bit of an overview: We have four programs we’re currently offering for high school students to engage in STEM and get some hands-on experience while also hearing about careers and potential career pathways for them as they explore their future in engineering, science, technology and math. We have three in-person programs where we bring students into BAE Systems and allow them to work hand-in-hand with our engineers on cool projects. And then, we have a virtual program for folks who may be outside driving distance of our facilities in the Southern New Hampshire area. First, Women in Technology is a 16-week-long program for female-identifying students in the junior or senior high school age range. This session will start in January, and it goes through May. Participants will visit multiple BAE facilities throughout the 16 weeks. Every week we host at a different location. So they get to explore some of the programs that happen within those buildings. They’ll also engage in different modules that help them explore engineering concepts. 

Flo Nicholas: What are the specific technologies students will work on?

Laurel Skiff: We do a module (for example) on radio frequency technology, a big place we’re focusing on at BAE. One of the great things about Women in Technology is the roundtable session I like to call “speed networking.” They get to engage one-on-one with women at BAE Systems. The nice thing about this program, as with all of our programs, is that it’s BAE Systems employees teaching the concepts in the curriculum. So they develop great relationships with the students. Mentorship happens the entire time throughout all of these programs.

Flo Nicholas: How many students do you accept for Women in Technology, and what’s the application process?

Laurel Skiff: The maximum is 24 students. There is an application process: We want to know a little about you, where you go to school and some of the extracurricular things you might be involved in. We also ask questions like: What other STEM activities are you doing? Are you familiar with VEX Robotics? Are you on a first robotics team? There is also an essay component because we want to understand what’s drawing students to this program, what are the things that they’re excited to learn about and how they see this fitting into their overall education and career path. Women in Technology is a safe space where they can come together with other young women with the same interests. They can see BAE Systems women and how they’ve advanced in their careers over time. So it’s a nice community. 

Women in Tech Program provides opportunities for high school students here in New Hampshire. Courtesy Photo

Flo Nicholas: What is the next BAE program you want to highlight?

Laurel Skiff: FOCUS is a similar program to Women in Technology, but it is co-ed — for both males and females, all genders, first-year high school students through seniors. It’s an 11-week curriculum. In the first five weeks they’re getting lessons in different engineering disciplines from seasoned engineers working at BAE Systems. So last night, for example, FOCUS participants had their software engineering module, which was really fun. They got to learn a little about block coding and play around with Vex Robotics, which will be what they’ll do in the second part of the program, where they’ll be teamed up. They’ll be working on a project to design, build and code a robot, and then they get to complete that robot together. We’re in the middle of our fall session right now. The winter session is from January to about April. We take 18 students for that program, and they can be from any school within driving distance of our facilities in southern New Hampshire.

Flo Nicholas: Women in Technology and FOCUS are in-person and hands-on. What’s available for people who can’t come into your facilities?  

Laurel Skiff: The STEM Talks program is our virtual program. This started during COVID when we had to shut down our in-person programs. It was so successful that we kept it. STEM Talks is a six-week program that’s 100 percent virtual. We meet over Zoom once a week for an hour and a half, and our employees give tech talks or talk about their careers. For example, we may talk about the history of electronics and how much it has evolved. Another STEM Talk might focus on the day in the life of a mechanical engineer. The nice component is that we also have a hands-on activity that happens as part of those sessions with supplies that the students will hopefully have at home. The virtual program is open to all students. It is capped at about 50 students.

Flo Nicholas: And what is the fourth program BAE Systems offers?

Laurel Skiff: Our Engineering Career Day is a one-day program accessible for many students because it happens during their school day. We are partnering with schools in the local area to allow their students — or potentially a classroom of students — to come into BAE for the day. They get a little bit of background on the company. They get to tour our facilities, so they get to see some of the cool technology we’re working on. They have lunch with our leadership, which is always fun for the students. Students also do a hands-on activity that demonstrates some of the engineering concepts. This allows students to explore what different aspects exist for their career pathways and dive into a bit of detail about the technology behind some of these things they might consider doing in the future. Because of COVID, we haven’t done this program for two years, so I’m excited that we’re bringing it back in 2023. And is a program that we try to run quarterly. So once a quarter around 30 students, grades nine through 12. We do a lot of outreach to schools, but we’re always happy to hear from schools that want to connect and offer this program to their students.

Flo Nicholas: Lastly, tell us about internships. 

Laurel Skiff: Yes, internships are a huge part of our pipeline-building. We have one of the best internship programs because our interns work on real program work. They’re embedded in their teams. They’re not getting coffee or doing menial paperwork tasks. We also have a cool summer project that all of our interns are eligible to participate in if they want, where they’re collaboratively working with other interns across the company to solve a real-world problem that we might have. They get to present that project to leadership at the end of the summer. So it’s a cool way for them to make connections, build their network, and build their professional acumen. Our internship application process is opening now, so we can start interviewing over the holiday break. 

Flo Nicholas: I’m really impressed with the programs BAE offers to high school students, and I’m sure the community will be quite excited to learn about all the various programs that are available. So thank you again for being here.

Laurel Skiff: Thank you so much for having me.

Flo Nicholas: You are so welcome. And everyone, thank you for watching another episode of Get Tech Smart. Stay tuned for more.

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About this Author

Flo Nicolas

Flo Nicolas is a technologist, lawyer, speaker, mentor, writer, tech startup Founder/CEO of CheapCheep and Creator of Get Tech Smart. This article and episode are being shared with members of The Granite State News Collaborative.