Alka Bhave is the vice president of performance excellence at Perspecta and a Pinnacle Awards finalist in the STEM Advocate of the Year category. Here, she shares why the STEM fields are so important to the future of the nation, how STEM has impacted or her own professional career, the various ways she advocates for STEM and more.
Why are you so passionate about advocating for STEM? Why is it so important to the nation’s future?
We have a technical skills gap in our current workforce, and we’re on the verge of facing an acute shortage of skills in STEM as digitization of nearly every industry is rapidly occurring. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that jobs in STEM are projected to grow to more than 9 million by 2022, and that roughly 2 million of these jobs will go unfilled because of the lack of skilled candidates.
This is why I’m so passionate about advocating for STEM — it’s critical for the continued economic and technological advancement of our nation. My focus has been at the K-12 level because it’s critical to capture and keep interest early. Several studies have shown that younger generations — especially females — are losing interest in pursuing careers in STEM before reaching their teen years. This is a problem we have to address.
How has STEM impacted or influenced your professional career?
I’m an electrical engineer by education with focus in radio frequency and satellite communications. It doesn’t get any closer to STEM than that. Through my career journey, I’ve had phenomenal experiences in GovCon — such as working on the Hubble Space Telescope, developing the next generation national airspace systems for the Federal Aviation Administration and working on the integration of complex space and ground systems that keep our nation safe.
As my career advanced, I moved into roles more focused on business strategy and growth, but continue to keep STEM advocacy front and center as a personal campaign.
What are the ways in which you help advocate for STEM?
I leverage multiple paths, as different audiences can be reached via different mechanisms. Reaching out to local STEM schools and speaking with their administrators opens the door to opportunities where businesses can get involved and make a difference. LinkedIn and other social media are powerful resources when used in the right way to reach a wide audience. I’m always on the lookout for opportunities to make new connections. I also seek to get involved with others advocating STEM efforts and initiatives. There are so many passionate voices in this space that are truly making a difference, and that energy is contagious.
In terms of the development of STEM advocacy and outreach, what are you most proud of having been a part of?
I’m proud to have been an enabler of new connections, especially between industry and academia. I served on the Loudoun School-Business Executive Partnership Council from 2017-2019 as Perspecta’s representative, which promotes the development of partnerships between Loudoun County public schools and businesses to ensure that students are prepared to contribute to the challenges of the future.
In 2018-2019, Perspecta was a proud sponsor of the Academies of Loudoun Innovation Challenge. During this 6-month milestone STEM activity for ACL students, I served as liaison between our company and the school to champion and plan the initiative, which involved 75 high school students developing innovative engineering solutions to a technical challenge question posed by Perspecta. The execution involved numerous Perspecta mentors and coordinators that enabled success.
Previously, Perspecta hosted Chantilly High School/Chantilly Academy Girls Exploring Engineering students, where they learned how STEM is applied to solve interesting current day problems.
Additionally, I was also a mentor for the GE2 students, and connected them with an elementary school X-STEM team. That small yet important student-to-student mentoring connection was incredibly rewarding to foster and witness the benefit that each group received from each other. In advocacy and outreach, making connections is really where the opportunity space lies.
What’s your best advice for aspiring leaders who want to follow in your footsteps?
Lead with your heart and stay true to yourself. Look for ways to connect the dots between organizations, ideas and people, as collectively something bigger will be achieved. And most importantly, keep focus that no STEM effort is too small. Impacting just one child results in one citizen that will be critically important for our future. Who knows what that citizen will achieve for our nation.