The DIGITS Program: A Call-to-Action for UMass IT Employees

Filed in Featured, General by and on August 27, 2014

DIGITS logo

Since 2010, Bob Solis, University CIO, has invited members of his staff to participate in the DIGITS program.  He encourages volunteers to step out of their work environment and share their work experiences with 6th graders across the state through the Digits / STEM Program.

“Sharing our personal stories with these impressionable and in some cases disadvantaged kids has the very real potential to create a spark to help motivate them to a lifelong voyage in science and technology careers. These kids are our future IT workforce, applications designers and developers, network engineers and security specialists.’” – Bob Solis

DIGITS is a program that introduces 6th graders across the state of Massachusetts to the variety of careers available in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).  Volunteers share their life experiences in order to help students envision themselves in a STEM career.

One goal of DIGITS is to help students make the connection between what they study in school and how math and science are used in the real world.  UITS has been volunteering through this program for four years now.   Our goal for next year is to recruit more volunteers from the UMass Information Technology family.

Our Volunteer Stories

Jenny Adams

I volunteered initially because I thought it was an interesting approach, not that I felt I had any great knowledge to share.  As part of the program you are to encourage the kids to keep taking math, especially Algebra 2, so that they can continue on to careers in the STEM arena.

You share your journey to your STEM career and show them something about what you do. I didn’t start out in the 6th grade in anything that looked like a STEM career. I was going to teach History and that was my plan when I entered college. How that translated to an Accounting degree is the start of my story.  I tell the kids how I got from Accounting to doing training (teaching), consulting, traveling and eventually landing at UMASS.  I do the non-STEM things (music, art, history, crafts) outside of work.

I’ve had classes of 25 to 50 kids.  The larger group can make the ‘activities’ challenging. It sounds a bit daunting, but it’s not. The kids are interested, they love the stickers, and teachers are really good at keeping the kids focused on the activities.

One challenge is that the kids are not thinking about STEM careers.  When asking about what careers they are interested in, I’ve gotten ‘Rock Stars’ (My response: music is math), Carpenters (geometry), and Video Gamer players (scores!). Even if they are contrary to any type of STEM career – they still have to balance their checkbook (calculus!).

Charlene Joyce

I volunteered for the DIGITS program when I first arrived at UMass in 2011.

The toughest thing about presenting is that I really don’t have anything to show the kids.  Some volunteers can bring in tools that they use in their job.  However, the kids love to hear stories – and they love to share stories.  By asking the right questions, I can get them to talk about things they enjoy doing – and then show how that relates to STEM.  I always tell the kids that if you really think about it, we use math every day and remind them that often they’re not even aware they are using math – for example:  when they are counting down the minutes until their lunch break!

I have spoken to audiences ranging in size from as small as 20 to as large as 90.  I have shared the paths I’ve taken, the opportunities I’ve had, and tell them how strongly my math and science background has influenced those paths.  I have shared with them the difficulties I had in some classes and the sense of accomplishment felt when completing difficult tasks.  I remind them that they don’t have to go to college to be successful, but they do have to be willing to work hard, tackle problems, and solve issues. In the last two years, I have even received thank you notes from the kids.

Things to Consider

  1. The program is looking for volunteers in STEM related jobs.
  2. The program has participating schools in all counties of the State. The program coordinators will place you close to home or close to work depending on availability.

Explore the DIGITS Program

For more information check out the website: http://digits.us.com/.  Registration for the 2014-2015 year begins after Labor Day so check back next week if you are interested in becoming a volunteer.  DIGITS assigns volunteers based on the following schedule:

  • Western and Central Massachusetts:  Volunteers are contacted in October for training and subsequent matching to schools.  Class visits in November and December.
  • Eastern Massachusetts:  Volunteers are contacted in January for training and subsequent matching to schools.  Class visits in February, March, or April.

This is a wonderful opportunity to help our youth shape all our futures in the STEM fields. Please consider participating in this program, where you are certain to make a difference and to come away with an incredibly rewarding experience.

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