The Hidden GEM for Winning the STEM Talent War

What is the secret weapon top defense and IT companies use to win the STEM talent war? The National GEM Consortium, a venerable nonprofit headquartered in Alexandria, Virginia. Corporate executives from Intel, Northrop Grumman, Space X, Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Aerospace, and other premier companies are all part of the GEM Consortium, which enables them to sponsor GEM Fellows, and access GEM’s database of past and present STEM scholars. GEM Fellows are graduate students with an average GPA of 3.5 in a STEM-related major (Science, Technology, Engineering or Math).

Each student must pass a rigorous screening and application process before being awarded the full-tuition GEM Fellowship. More than 600 students apply for roughly 100 graduate Fellowships each year. The scholars selected are also awarded paid-internships during their academic tenure. Upon graduation, they receive high, entry-level positions with the sponsoring tech companies and government research institutions in GEM’s Consortium (such as Lawrence Livermore Laboratory and MIT Lincoln Laboratory).

Shameeka Emanuel, GEM Alumnae and current Program Lead for Google’s Tech Exchange

Dr. Eric D. Evans, Director of MIT Lincoln Laboratory, observed: “The National GEM Consortium is a critically important part of Lincoln Labs’ diversity and inclusion programs. GEM has connected us to a much wider pool of top talent pursuing STEM-related degrees.”

GEM furnishes the IT industry with more than 1,000 masters and PhD graduates annually. The vast majority of GEM Fellows are exceptional scholars from underrepresented and often overlooked communities, such as East L.A. and the South Bronx.

Michael A. Greene, Chairman of the Board of the National GEM Consortium, and Intel Vice President and General Manager, added: “The National GEM Consortium is one of Intel’s valued partnerships. Each year we sponsor approximately 30 Fellows. The National GEM Consortium plays an important role in helping us to find the best and brightest talent to fuel our innovation engine.”

While most people have never heard of GEM, the organization’s alumni are prominent in STEM fields, academia and the executive ranks, such as:

· Former Xerox CEO Ursula Burns (now a member of Uber’s board of directors)

· NASA senior scientist P. W. Valerino

· Old Dominion University’s Engineering School dean Stephanie G. Adams (it’s worth pointing out that two of the four female engineering school deans are also GEM alumnae)

· Pioneering New York University professor, Dr. Andre Taylor (who recently made a breakthrough in solar cell design)

· Dr. Nashlie Spehus (CTO of a tech startup sold to Amazon for an undisclosed sum)

· Mary Spio (CEO of leading virtual reality company CEEK VR, which recently signed a deal to provide VR services to NBA 2K)

NYU engineering professor and GEM alum Dr. Andre Taylor, who recently made a breakthrough in solar cell design

At the 2018 GEM annual conference, Reginald Van Lee was presented with the Distinguished Alumni award. A former Executive Vice President with Booz Allen Hamilton, who helmed the company’s U.S. commercial business, Van Lee was revered as a strategist and change-maker who oversaw hundreds of engagements for corporate, government and nonprofit clients globally. He was named Black Engineer of the Year in 2009, and was recognized by Washington Business Journal as one of Washington’s minority business leaders and one of the Top 25 consultants in the world by Consulting magazine. He is now a sought-after consultant and advisor to C-Suite executives and board directors.

Former Booz Allen Hamilton EVP Reginald Van Lee, who received the Distinguished Alumni Award at the 2018 GEM conference gala

In accepting his award, Van Lee explained how the GEM Fellowship was critical to making his career possible. While growing up in one of Houston’s most underserved communities, it seemed attainting a graduate degree would be, to quote Langston Hughes, a dream deferred. Van Lee compared achieving the GEM Fellowship to receiving an answer to his prayers to continue to his education. The Fellowship enabled him to attain his Master of Science in Civil Engineering at MIT. He would later go on to earn his MBA from Harvard and co-author Megacommunities — How Leaders of Government, Business and Non-Profits Can Tackle Today’s Global Challenges Together.

At the conference, Van Lee discussed the future of work, AI and nanotechnology with a plethora of representatives from universities, companies and government research institutions, all of whom had an opportunity to also meet more than 200 STEM students and GEM Fellows at the conference’s annual employer fair.

In accepting the conference’s Academic Leadership Award, Dr. Timothy Sands, President of Virginia Tech, said, “As a land-grant institution, we have a responsibility to educate the citizens of the commonwealth and meet its talent needs. Increasingly that means STEM-related skills, and an educational experience that is as diverse as the world our graduates will enter. I want to thank the GEM Consortium for your work over the last 42 years, and your partnership with Virginia Tech. The six-plus-year partnership has resulted in nearly 50 GEM Fellows — 12 funded by GEM industry members like Intel, MIT Lincoln Labs, Adobe, and Brookhaven National Labs.”

At the end of the conference, Brennon Marcano, CEO of the National GEM Consortium, shared his concerns about funding STEM graduate students in the future: “In light of the government cuts to education in general, and to STEM education in particular, GEM’s mission is more critical than ever. Each year GEM has roughly 600 applicants who have incredible qualifications, but unfortunately we have to turn them away because we don’t have enough ‘American GEMs,’ if you will, like Intel and Adobe, who are funding their educations and propelling their careers through paid internships and full-time job placement. For America to compete in the global economy in the age of digital disruption, there must be more investment from the corporate sector, as well as more funding from government. The British government is making this commitment. Why can’t we do the same in the U.S? In sum, it’s not a lack of pipeline. It’s a lack of funding.”

Marcano went on share his vision of a U.S. STEM workforce where all are valued and empowered to realize their fullest potential through equal access to senior-levels positions. He cited several studies, such as the McKinsey report, which show that diversity and inclusion drive innovation, while maximizing social impact and corporate financial performance.

I recently spoke with Marcano, who shared some good news: For 2018, the number of full Fellowships awarded increased from 103 to 145. Marcano explained that the increase was the result of Consortium members taking on more Fellows. He added that GEM’s University and Associate Fellowships (which do not have an internship component) grew 90% year-over-year. “And in 2018, GEM received Charity Navigator’s highest ranking of four stars for the second year in a row, but with a higher overall score than in 2017.”

GEM has filled the tech industry’s pipeline with high-achieving diverse talent (more than 4,000) since its inception in 1976. The 2019 GEM Conference will be held in Chicago, September 19–21.

If you’re ready to make deliberate decisions about your talent acquisition strategy, the GEM conference may provide a meaningful opportunity to do so.

CEO @ Culture Shift Labs | Growth Strategist | Biz Dev Exec | Advisor to Leaders | Author | SME: Diversity & Innovation | Serving Early Adopting Execs.