Many sessions at the BEYA STEM 2015 conference boasted near-capacity attendance of college students and newly graduated technology professionals.

Despite the push among American high schools and colleges to engage students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), a recent study, funded by Cisco Systems, found a shortage was expected for the U.S. STEM workforce by 2018.

In addition to the U.S. shortage, African Americans are expected to stall in acquiring STEM positions, making up less than 10 percent in each field (Science – 6 percent, Technology – 8.5 percent, Engineering – 9.8 percent; and Math – 1.9 percent) by 2016. The BEYA (Becoming Everything You Are) STEM Conference, an annual mentoring and networking seminar, however, stands poised to answer that underrepresentation through direct mentoring and providing necessary leadership from among the ranks of existing Black professionals.

This year’s conference, Exceeding Expectations: Path to the Future, brought more than 8,000 attendees including students, college administrators, and high-level corporate and government professionals together to broaden diversity in this country’s technical and scientific work forces. Stephanie C. Hill, vice president and general manager for Lockheed Martin Information Systems and Global Solutions Civil said part of the conference’s purpose was to strengthen the nation’s global competitiveness.

“We are at a critical point, where more than one million STEM jobs in the nation are expected to go unfilled by 2018 because there won’t be enough qualified people,” Hill said. “And we know that figure is compounded by the growing gap in the number of minorities and women in the field.  So, we need to light this path to the future with an emphasis on the excitement, the rewards, and the satisfaction that an engineering and technology career can yield.”

Student participation was high in the I Just Want to be Successful: Leadership, Lyrics and Life session, which examined basic “success” rules and ways to manage corporate politics.  The success of the workshop, according the Morgan State engineering student Doug Poindexter, was the incorporation of hip hop culture and messages.

“I wore dreadlocks for several years but cut them off once I started doing professional internships.  Some days I regret my decision.  It was good to talk it out with a couple of guys from Aerotek and Boeing and walk away affirmed that I have not sold out and can still love hip-hop culture, so long as I also invest in the culture of business success,” he said.

Karymn Norwood, systems engineer director for Lockheed Martin honored with a special BEYA recognition, said that because of the under representation of African Americans in STEM careers, preparing a students to not only work in but lead in these fields requires strategic preparation.

“My participation is part of a desire to help build the pipeline of engineering and technical people throughout the United States that companies such as Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and IBM can pull from and who can take on those critical jobs in the future.  If we don’t invest; then we don’t have,” Norwood said. “BEYA gives me an opportunity to connect with many students from universities all over the world to reinforce the importance of science, engineering, and technology and encourage them to develop strong leadership skills that will help them transition confidently into corporate America.”

The 2015 BEYA STEM Conference was hosted by U.S. Black Engineer & Information Technology magazine, the Council of Engineering Deans of the Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and Lockheed Martin Corporation.