button-download-workshop-filesStrand: Building a Diverse Workforce
Tuesday, April 25, 2017
Session II: 10:45 AM – 12:00 PM


This session provides an opportunity to learn from FIRST’s “race” toward equity, diversity, and inclusion. FIRST will offer its rationale for building organizational capacity to respond to shifting national demographics and address the need for future STEM professionals, and for positioning its programs to be a solution. Attendees will learn about three core strategies: (1) Partnerships and Alliances, (2) Professional Learning—a NAPE collaboration, and (3) Pilot Initiatives.


HENDERSON_shelley 2017Shelley Henderson, MSeD

Diversity & Inclusion Manager

Biography: Shelley Henderson is the Diversity & Inclusion Manager for FIRST—For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology—a global New Hampshire-based nonprofit that offers accessible, innovative programs to motivate young people to pursue education and career opportunities in science, technology, engineering, and math, while building self-confidence, knowledge, and life skills. She leads its national STEM equity initiative to design and implement strategies that will not only improve the diversity of K-12 program participation but will also embed inclusion within the FIRST organization and field implementation. Shelley has defined and prioritized underrepresented and underserved populations to design laser-focused strategies aligned with metrics for optimal impact.


Our country’s demographics are shifting—and our economic fate will hinge on how we respond to these changes. As the population grows more diverse and people of color become the majority, equity—just and fair inclusion of diverse populations—has become an imperative. Diversity is an asset, but rising inequalities and persistent racial gaps in health, wealth, income, employment, education, and opportunity prevent low-income people, people of color, and other underserved populations from realizing their full potential. The jobs of the future will require higher levels of skills and education, but our education and job training systems are not adequately preparing the Latinos, African Americans, and other underserved populations. Attendees will be presented with some national data related to the above from the PolicyLink National Equity Atlas and with local data from 1 or 2 attendees. Attendees will also view an opening video on equity and participate in a session-opening icebreaker; we will use the “race track” metaphor throughout the presentation.

STEM education and training offer a pathway to well-paying jobs and entrepreneurial opportunities in the fastest-growing fields. Increasing participation in STEM fields is critical because America needs a qualified workforce, leaders, and innovators to maintain a competitive edge. There is also rapid growth in the need for STEM professionals. Between 2008 and 2018, the nation’s need for STEM professionals will grow by 17 percent–which is more than the projected growth for administrative work, sales, and transportation combined.

The mission of FIRST® is to inspire youth to become science and technology leaders and innovators, by engaging them in exciting, mentor-guided, project-based programs that teach STEM skills, inspire innovation, and foster well-rounded life capabilities. It provides opportunities to develop STEM literacy through a robotics platform. It has four programs–FIRST LEGO League Jr., which serves K-3, FIRST LEGO League which serves grades 4-8, FIRST Tech Challenge, serving grades 7 through high school, and the oldest program, FIRST Robotics Competition, which serves grades 9-12. Attendees will receive take-home information about these programs.

FIRST is committed to fostering, cultivating, and preserving a culture of diversity and inclusion to help achieve STEM equity. It embraces and encourages differences in race, color, creed, religion, sex, national origin, disability, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, income, or any other characteristics that make our workforce and program participants unique. Exploring, developing, and implementing strategies to become more inclusive and ensure access of our programs to all students (as well as access to key support factors) is critical for FIRST to reach its goal and mission. ALL young people should have the opportunity to become science and technology leaders. FIRST will remove barriers to program participation for underserved, underrepresented children and youth. Pursuant to that end, the Diversity & Inclusion Initiative is a concerted, organized effort on the part of FIRST to develop strategies to make its programs more accessible and inclusive.

FIRST has set a strategic priority of making its programs more inclusive and better representative of the communities where teams are located and build a presence where we have little or none. Demographic data on program participation indicates that girls represent 25%-35% of team members at FIRST, and data from the longitudinal study suggests that the majority of youth in FIRST programs are male (68%), white (68%), suburban (51%), from two parent households (88%), and middle class backgrounds (73% indicated $50,000 or more; 19% indicated $150,000 or more). Exploring, developing, and implementing strategies to become more inclusive and ensure access of our programs to all students (as well as access to key support factors) is critical for FIRST to reach its mission. Attendees will learn about the pre-implementation work done and data gathered to prepare for the launch of the initiative.


Attendees will learn about the development and implementation of three core strategies at FIRST: Partnerships & Alliances, Professional Learning, and Pilot Initiatives.

Partnerships & Alliances: FIRST realizes that it will not reach its strategic objective on diversity and inclusions without solid, mutually reciprocal partnerships. FIRST maintains important national alliance and local relationships with a network of organizations, corporations, foundations, institutions, colleges and universities, and others that are committed to sustaining key programs that ignite young minds and advocate STEM. These relationships help increase FIRST visibility and provide valuable resources. At the state/local level, these relationships can have a significant impact in the community by creating more teams, engaging more mentors, and reaching out to more students.

Professional Learning: FIRST is launching training and technical assistance for headquarters staff and field coaches, mentors, volunteers, and partners designed to strengthen both diversity awareness and inclusive practices. An initial assessment will (1) help rate the diversity and inclusion awareness and skillsets within the organization, (2) uncover the unconscious bias, attitudes, and beliefs of training participants that may either strengthen or undermine performance and program implementation, (3) create organizational recommendations on how to inspire culture change, and (4) provide participants with tips and techniques on how to be more inclusive in the areas they may need improvement. A combination of customized online and face-to-face learning will allow FIRST to address gaps in understanding that ultimately encourages improved access to programs for diverse populations and inclusive environments and experiences for children, youth and families. Attendees will learn about FIRST’s progress, tools, and collaborations with partners like the one it undertook with NAPE on micromessaging. This unique program provides participants with an awareness of the power of micromessages, which include looks, gestures, tone of voice, or the framing of feedback that subtly yet powerfully shape our culture, our classrooms, and the individuals within them.

Pilot Initiatives:

FIRST has launched targeted initiatives to build the capacity of communities to develop coalitions that promote STEM engagement and FIRST program participation to increase diversity and foster inclusion. These initiatives are designed to increase the number of underrepresented, underserved youth and enable community leaders to map current resources, identify service gaps or other unmet needs, and provide the supports necessary to initiate program participation (rookie FIRST teams) or improve inclusion (in veteran FIRST teams), and create the metrics and data systems to drive continuous improvement over time. With generous support from donors, FIRST is launching these initiatives and will support as many as 20 communities to improve diversity, inclusion, and implementation of FIRST programs. Attendees will learn about these new coalitions and identify ways they can engage in efforts near them.


The intended audience includes those with all levels of experience implementing equity, diversity, and inclusion initiatives–from novice to advanced.