Will LaBar serves as vice president of consulting services at CGI Federal and is a Pinnacle Awards finalist in the STEM Advocate of the Year category. Here, he shares why he’s so passionate about advocating for STEM, his your role models in the STEM space, the STEM@CGI program and more.
What are the ways in which you help advocate for STEM?
So many ways to answer this question! Specific to my role at CGI, my team launched and helps lead our U.S.-wide STEM@CGI program, which is focused on introducing, inspiring and mentoring young people currently underrepresented in STEM careers, with a focus on women, minorities and the economically disadvantaged.
The learning opportunities we provide for students through this program have been delivered by more than 650 CGI employees who have contributed 9,000-plus service hours to reach more than 8,000 students through 80 events across the U.S. in the last three years.
At a community level, we advocate by being partner focused. We plan STEM@CGI events by listening to our partners and identifying an unmet need we can address. We then bring the talents of our CGI members to meet that need for local students.
At a personal level, I think one of the most important ways to be an advocate is by empowering our employees to own the mission of the STEM@CGI program and let their creativity and talents shine. It is amazing what happens when you create an environment that is focused on empowerment and creativity — our STEM@CGI program is always evolving to meet the needs of each community.
Why are you so passionate about advocating for STEM? Why is it so important to the nation’s future?
There is a well-known shortage of skilled workers for STEM fields in the U.S., and there is a major diversity challenge in the technology industry as well. These two factors alone make STEM advocacy critical to our industry and our nation as a whole.
But what makes me passionate about this? For me, it is seeing the spark of creativity and excitement in a student’s eye when they tell me about a problem they are solving.
Last week, I walked into a conference room at our local library to meet a team that was being taught by CGI mentors about how to build an app using a block-coding platform. When I asked them to explain what they were working on, they launched into telling me how they were going to use technology to help people cope with depression and ultimately help lower suicide rates. They didn’t stop talking for 10 minutes. Not once did they go into the tech side of what they were doing — they were 100% focused on the people they would be able to help.
That is what makes me passionate: Seeing students who are new to STEM become inspired by how technology can help people and help make this world a better place. That is awesome.
In terms of the development of STEM advocacy and outreach, what are you most proud of having been a part of?
I’d have to say that I am most proud of being a part of the STEM@CGI program’s creation. It has a great origin story. It began with three CGI employees hired right out of college, who in their first year created our inaugural CGI STEM Camp in my hometown of Lafayette, Louisiana. From there, we formed a team to win an internal CGI competition for corporate social responsibility funding and extended the camp to five cities across the U.S.
It caught fire from there and has spread across the entire country and now CGI teams around the world are running with it. It was an amazing team effort to go from a single event to a worldwide program, and knowing that I played a small part in creating something that is making an impact on so many students is one of the proudest achievements of my career.
What key achievements did you have in 2018?
One of the biggest achievements we’ve had in the past year or so has been the creation of our STEM@CGI+Client model, a framework designed to expand our STEM program to partner with our clients. This program pairs the unique skillsets of CGI’s employees with the mission expertise of our clients in order to create truly unique learning opportunities for students.
We partnered with one client to deliver a STEM Camp using this model for the American School for the Deaf in Connecticut. And we have been exploring partnerships with an organization along the Gulf Coast that pairs their expertise in coastal erosion and wetlands protection with our technical expertise to create STEM experiences for students.
Another key achievement is our partnership with the Congressional App Challenge — a national program designed to engage student creativity and encourage their participation in STEM fields. This is a months-long mentoring effort that culminates in an app competition across the country.
After introducing this program at one CGI location two years ago, we now have multiple cities participating and have launched a “train the trainer” initiative to incorporate additional university, community college and corporate mentors. We now work with these partners to share best practices so that together, we act as force multipliers to work with multiple teams in our community using the Congressional App Challenge framework.
Who are your role models/mentors in the STEM space?
Honestly, I would have to say it is the CGI employees who envision, design and execute STEM@CGI programs across the U.S. Their energy is contagious, and their willingness to give of themselves to help others is inspirational. I love engaging in workshops and brainstorming how we can design and build great learning opportunities for students.
Seeing our ideas come to fruition is the ultimate reward. The passion our employees bring to this program serves as a constant reminder to me of what is most important. They are the best role models.