TWC Closes the STEM Inspiration Gap

Key to the success of Time Warner Cable’s Connect a Million Minds STEM education initiative are its structure within the company and the partners it recruits.

The nationwide initiative is carried out by local champions across the No. 2 MSO’s footprint. They help identify organizations within their communities whose goals dovetail with the initiative’s mission and partner with them to create events that demonstrate that the career options in science, technology, engineering and math go beyond number-crunching professions to highly creative ones as well.

Over the last five years local systems worked with some 1,500 community organizations as diverse as the regional Geva Theater in Rochester, N.Y., and Project Scientist in Charlotte, N.C.

TWC’s Rochester system worked with Geva Theater to create the “Stage Door Project” in January; 25 kids participated in four different backstage workshops and then crewed a production of Little Shop of Horrors at the end.

“We approached Geva with the idea that what goes on backstage during a production is rooted in STEM skills, whether it’s lighting and sound or costume design,” Milinda Martin, TWC’s vice president of community investment, who oversees the local system efforts.

The Charlotte system has been a longtime supporter of Project Scientist, which aims to close the STEM gender gap (women comprise only 25% of the STEM workforce even though 74% of girls say they are interested in STEM careers, according to a video at its website).

Their “Day at Carowinds Park” event, giving girls an up-close look at the architecture, engineering and infrastructure behind the Fury325 giga-coaster that opened to wide acclaim Wednesday (March 25), was one of six public service efforts selected for Multichannel News’s inaugural #CableInTheCommunity spotlight.

The Project Scientist partnership underscores a heightened focus within the Connect a Million Minds initiative on bringing more girls and young women into the tech fold, partly by ensuring they don’t disengage from STEM subjects in the first place, Martin said.

“One of the reasons we focus on girls -- and underserved youth – is we hope to not only inspire them but support them and help them recognize their voices are important to the conversation,” Martin explained. “We want them to see that their differences are important to innovation in technology.”

Project Scientist is a great local partner for that, Martin added, because it “helps girls pursue their passion for technology and teaches them how to navigate working in a world that’s male dominated.”

“We can put them in settings where they can see what that’s like and that will foster their sense of innovation and inspiration,” she said.

TWC said it reached 926,000 kids last year with hands-on STEM projects like these. Martin spoke with Multichannel News about how TWC administers the initiative across its local systems.

MCN: So this is a national campaign run through local efforts, and you have a pretty wide footprint. How do you manage it?

MILINDA MARTIN: Within our corporate brand and reputation team we have two verticals, one of which one is our corporate social responsibility strategy, and that includes Connect a Million Minds.

We have 20 local practitioners across our footprint who bring the initiative to light in their communities. You have to truly understand your local community and what its needs are, and that takes some hands-on effort.

MCN: How do your local systems identify potential initiatives in their communities?

MM: The mission of Connect a Million Minds is to inspire the next generation of problem solvers, and hands-on activities are the best way to do that. So our Community Investment team looks for local partners where we can engage kids, usually via after-school programs; we seek partners who will help us inspire kids, and sometimes the organizations come to us.

We approach kids with what they already like – music, sports, fashion, amusement parks, things they consider fun – and then we help them connect math and science to those things: “Let us show you how paying attention in math can help you find a role in the theater.”

There’s an inspiration gap in STEM, and our goal is to show that they can be creative fields as well, and help people come around to the idea that STEM is exciting. So something like the roller coaster event in Charlotte offers kids a different way to look at what they’re learning in a formal setting and how it can apply to their future careers.

MCN: How do you promote Connect a Million Minds internally and recruit employee participation?

MM: As part of our employee intranet we have TWC Connect, a portal specifically for community involvement. You can put in your zip code, and activities will come up for you. Whether it’s volunteering at their church or with a program we are supporting, we really want our employees to be involved in ir community. About 25% of our employees take an active involvement in the communities where they live.

On our portal we also capture those activities that go on outside the company so we can celebrate them for it. Then when have an initiative like the ones in Charlotte or Rochester, we can push that out on the portal to local employees, and we usually get more volunteers than we can accommodate.

We also use these events as opportunities for team building and cross-functional collaboration and employee training, so the initiative has internal benefits as well for the company and our employees.

MCN: Having met the five-year goal, what are your future plans for the initiative?

MM: On a local level, we are navigating how to tie CAMM into our brand. The best partnerships enable both sides to achieve their aims, and our aim is to continue to operate in our communities, supplying jobs and services. And all of these local organizations want visibility in their communities.

So when we talk to a local nonprofit, it’s about “Where are you trying to go and where can we find alignment?” Finding that common ground is essential.

Visit the Connect a Million Minds website to learn more.