As Director of Global Corporate Citizenship at Northrop Grumman, Carleen Beste discusses the company’s focus on expanding the pipeline of diverse, talented STEM students. She also manages the Northrop Grumman Foundation, devoted to STEM education. Through teacher development programs, robotics, and cybersecurity initiatives, Northrop Grumman leads the way in shaping the direction of the STEM pipeline.
WashingtonExec: What is your background and current position at Northrop Grumman?
Carleen Beste: My current position is Northrop Grumman Director of Global Corporate Citizenship and Manager of the Northrop Grumman Foundation. In this position, I am responsible for the development and implementation of Northrop Grumman’s Corporate Citizenship strategic plan and programming which includes K-12 education, troops and veterans, environmental stewardship, employee volunteer initiatives, community engagement, work/life and the company’s philanthropic endeavors. As the manager of the Northrop Grumman Foundation, I oversee all Foundation programming, which focuses on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education.
I have a broad background in public affairs and communications. I’ve held several leadership positions within the community, both representing the company and personally, and currently serve on the Board of Education for the Hermosa Beach City School District. I graduated from The Ohio State University with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and I hold a certificate in Corporate Community Involvement from the Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenship.
WashingtonExec: How did you first get interested in STEM and why is it important to you?
Carleen Beste: Looking back, I guess STEM has always been important to me. Math and science was what I loved as a K-12 student and I even entered college with an interest in a technical career. Things change, but I would say that background has served me well. While I don’t design spacecraft or defend networks as part of my job today, I interact with those who do on a regular basis and have the responsibility of taking some of the technical information and making it interesting and exciting for a younger audience.
As far as importance goes, I truly believe in Northrop Grumman’s focus on expanding and enhancing the pipeline of diverse, talented STEM students and how important that is to future of our nation. In addition, I have two young children and think that a solid STEM education will lead them to a successful career.
“We partnered with the University of Maryland and launched the Advanced Cybersecurity Experience for Students (ACES), the nation’s first cybersecurity honors program for undergraduates.”
WashingtonExec: What are some of the best STEM initiatives at Northrop Grumman?
Carleen Beste: In 2012, Northrop Grumman and the Northrop Grumman Foundation contributed approximately $22.8 million to diverse STEM-related groups. For example, in support of teacher development, last year we donated $1 million to George Mason University for the Virginia Initiative for Science Teaching and Achievement program. The five-year effort focuses on high-need schools to improve science teaching, student learning and professional development of elementary and secondary teachers throughout Virginia.
This was our second year, in collaboration with Conservation International, supporting ECO Classroom. It’s a unique program assisted by the Northrop Grumman Foundation, that gives science teachers an intensive, two-week program in Costa Rica designed to stimulate their knowledge and interest in environmental science, and prepare them to inspire their students to pursue STEM.
This year the foundation sponsored 17 teachers and 65 students from across the U.S. and the United Kingdom with scholarships to attend Space Camp® at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Ala. This was the fifth year the foundation sponsored the scholarships which gives student campers the opportunity to build and launch rockets, experience weightlessness in an astronaut training simulator and practice space travel preparation. The Space Academy for Educators provided teachers with tools to enhance how they use STEM concepts in their classrooms.
Another stimulating contest we support in partnership with the Robotics Education & Competition Foundation is the VEX Robotics international robotics competition where kids at the middle school and high school level, as well as collegiate competitors, build robots to complete a specific task.
One area of STEM that is particularly important to our national security is cybersecurity and we support many activities to create interest among young people and help them gain knowledge.
For students, in March we completed our third year as the premier sponsor of the Air Force Association’s CyberPatriot program. This international competition is a national high school cybersecurity defense event designed to excite, educate and motivate the next generation of cyber-defenders. It is one of the nation’s largest and fastest growing high school competitions and last year we hired 28 former participants in the program. A final competition was held in March, where we pledged another $4.5 million to help the competitions continue into 2016.
At the University of Maryland Baltimore County, we funded the Cyber Scholars program, which aims to increase the number of women and underrepresented minorities in the field.
We partnered with the University of Maryland and launched the Advanced Cybersecurity Experience for Students (ACES), the nation’s first cybersecurity honors program for undergraduates. The ACES program is designed to educate future leaders in the field of cybersecurity through rigorous, hands-on learning experiences, an intensive interdisciplinary curriculum, collaborative projects, and professional insight from industry and business leaders. The four-year Honors College program offers students a living-learning experience, giving them the opportunity to collaborate and work closely together as they pursue their advanced program of study in cybersecurity.
We have more STEM initiatives, including the countless hours our employees spend volunteering in their local communities around the country.
“Once STEM-trained professionals join the workplace, it’s up to the companies and organizations to provide mentoring and leadership training targeted to women and minorities in technical fields.”
WashingtonExec: Where does Northrop Grumman Corporation focus their STEM efforts the most – K-6, middle school, high school or college?
Carleen Beste: We are committed to expanding and enhancing the pipeline of diverse, talented STEM students globally. We provide funding to STEM programs that span from preschool to high school and through collegiate levels, with a major emphasis on middle school students and teachers.
A critical step in building a diverse, STEM student pipeline is making science and math fascinating and applicable for students. We must particularly reach out to women and minority students, where the lack of STEM involvement is detrimental to our society. To do that, we need educators who are excited about what they do and can bring unique learning opportunities into their classroom.
WashingtonExec: Explain the reasoning behind investing so many company resources into STEM programs.
Carleen Beste: Across the country, the number of young students interested in STEM falls short of the projections of the talent our nation will need. This is causing a growing shortage of science-based talent in our workplaces and universities, and it represents a serious problem for our nation. Science-based expertise is at the heart of our high-technology culture, society and economy. If we are not able to draw on a substantial and growing infusion of that expertise, America will be unable to sustain its leadership position in an increasingly competitive world.
WashingtonExec: What more can organizations do to inspire students into STEM careers?
Carleen Beste: It is critical that our youth see STEM as an exciting, fulfilling career to which they can aspire and excel, particularly women and minorities. We must start in elementary and middle school offering programs that show young women and minorities how STEM can be fun and cool, and eventually lead to a great career. In order for students to see the excitement, we have to be out in our communities and have a very hands-on approach, interacting with kids as often as possible.
For those that elect STEM majors in college, we must work to ensure they graduate and pursue STEM careers. Once STEM-trained professionals join the workplace, it’s up to the companies and organizations to provide mentoring and leadership training targeted to women and minorities in technical fields. STEM leaders must be visible to their co-workers and to young people and proactive in helping cultivate women and minority technical professionals with leadership potential.
Internship programs are another way to give young people first-hand experience in STEM. We employ several hundred high school and college interns each year, and we actively seek to hire them when they enter the workforce.
WashingtonExec is conducting interviews with area executives who have contributed to STEM and want to share their insights. If you or someone you know has inspired young people in STEM, contact Julie Reiss at firstname.lastname@example.org.