World Wide Technology hosts STEM Student Forum

World Wide Technology recently hosted its fourth annual STEM Student Forum and Student Hackathon at its headquarters in Maryland Heights. Nearly 200 students from 19 local high schools were tasked with using technology to solve a community or school problem. Each team was paired with a WWT employee. Final projects included initiatives to use facial recognition to detect unhappy students and sensors to help visually impaired students navigate hallways to ride-sharing services for students looking to carpool and rewarding students with points redeemable at local businesses for staying off their phones during school hours. A group of Pattonville High School students that overhauled a supply closet for students in need won the $10,000 first prize. Each participating school walked away with $1,000 to support its STEM program.

"Take a chance and just do it. You would be surprised how much you know," Ann Marr told any students who might have been hesitant to be a part of World Wide Technology’s (WWT) annual STEM Student Forum.

Marr has served for over 20 years as global vice president of Human Resources at WWT, a St. Louis-based technology service provider founded by David Steward in July 1990. The STEM Student Forum, which is focused on getting high schoolers interested in careers within the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) industry, has just finished its fourth year.

Marr said that the program initially started with only five schools in the area and a few handfuls of students. Now, the program has grown to about 20 schools with 10 students per school.

Students in their junior and senior years (with a few sophomores sprinkled in) are matched with mentors from WWT. The mentors talked to the students about hackathons and how they could be used to find unique and innovative solutions to improve their communities. The students then spent six to eight weeks coming up with their resolutions, which they presented on a Saturday in an all-day hackathon style.

“The initial day of the program is half a day, and we feed them lunch and give them an overview of the project,” said Marr. She said the schools picked were already STEM-aligned, usually having their own resources available for students. WWT provided its employees, who readily volunteer for the projects every year. Ambassadors from the school helped tie everything together and kept the students and their projects on track.

This year, Pattonville High School took home the top prize: a $10,000 grant to their school, which they could use for their school’s STEM program. Second prize was a $5,000 grant, and third place garnered a school a $2,500 grant. Each participating school walked away with at least $1,000, in the end.

Students who participated don’t have to pay a dime, though.

“Every year, we send out emails to school principals and ask them to apply to be a part of the program. There’s no cost,” said Marr.

However, the selection is limited due to space and time constraints, so WWT has done its best to spread out to different areas throughout the St. Louis region. If selected, the school then chooses its own bank of 10 students to participate in the program.

Besides the obvious benefit of an advanced STEM educational experience, students could possibly become part of the WWT family. “We’ve had a couple of students who went through the program become interns at WWT,” said Marr.

Marr said that students who are interested in participating should check with their principal early during the school year to see if they received an email invitation to the program. 

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