Be a Student's Hero is coming May 3, 2024!

$75,000 APS Foundation grant supports STEM outreach programs at local community colleges

News November 18, 2021
Hermanas Photo

Students from North High, Central High, and Phoenix Coding Academy with College faculty and staff, and Intel Deputy Director of US Corporate Affairs, Gabriela Gonzalez, at the 2018 Hermanas Conference.


The Arizona Public Service Foundation awarded a $75,000 grant to the Maricopa Community Colleges Foundation to support science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs at Mesa Community College, Chandler-Gilbert Community College, Estrella Mountain Community College and Phoenix College. The largest portion of the grant, $35,000, benefits STEM-focused, mentored, work-based experiences for underrepresented STEM students at Phoenix College; $17,200 supports the annual Girls Get It! conference sponsored by Mesa Community College, and $22,800 supports the Hermanas program at Estrella Mountain Community College and Chandler-Gilbert Community College.

This year Girls Get IT! is slated for Nov. 19 at Scottsdale Community College and is open to 150 female 9th-12th grade students within the Mesa Public Schools and 60 professional women from various industries around the Valley. Nine breakout sessions will cover gaming, nanotechnology, networking/AI, cybersecurity and more. Keynote speaker is Fredi Lajvardi, program manager for the Marine Science Magnet program at Carl Hayden High School, where he leads the Falcon Robotics Team, an extracurricular STEM program that has received national and worldwide attention.

Participants explore a full range of educational and professional opportunities available for women in IT and make connections by engaging with other girls and young women interested in studying or already working in the field of IT.

“Women are vastly underrepresented in terms of STEM education and careers,” said Diane Meza, Director of the Maricopa Information Technology Institute-East Valley (MITI-EV), which sponsors the event. “We’re working to address the community’s educational attainment and workforce development.”

The Maricopa County Community College District Hermanas conferences seek to impact the diversity of the STEM workforce by introducing STEM careers and education to approximately 700 middle and high school Latina female students. Since its inception in 2005, Hermanas has served more than 6,500 students from more than 50 schools across Maricopa County.

“Young Latina girls aren’t aware of the opportunities in technology. They don’t realize that it’s an option,” said Hermanas Program Manager Maria Reyes. “This is a segment of our population that is most at risk of being unprepared to enter the workforce of the future.”

Marychuy Velarde, guest speaker at a previous Hermanas Conference at Estrella Mountain Community and a System Validation Engineer from Intel, shared her story about being the youngest of nine siblings in a Hispanic family and wanting a job that didn’t exactly fit with her culture. Velarde wanted to be an engineer.

“I wanted to figure out how things worked, solve problems, and make things better for those around me,” she said.

She stressed the importance of getting a college degree, whether in STEM or another field, and said after she got hers, her nieces and nephews followed in her footsteps.

The third program funded by the APS grant supports STEM-focused mentored, work-based experiences for approximately 200 underrepresented STEM students at Phoenix College. The goal of this effort is to increase interest, persistence, and completion rates in STEM degrees and certifications, expanding the STEM workforce pipeline — providing students with soft skills training including communication, teamwork and project management ensuring they are well-prepared for workforce success. The project aims to develop a model for community colleges to establish faculty-mentored research and work experiences that increase student graduation and entry into STEM career pathways.