Community

Empowering the Next Generation of STEM Leaders

Xcel Energy Foundation grant recipient encourages girls to pursue STEM careers during annual conference

By: | November 4, 2019

Last year, the Xcel Energy Foundation contributed more than $3.4 million in grants to support the company’s primary focus areas of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education; economic sustainability; environmental stewardship; and access to arts and culture. This is one in a series of stories to highlight our grant partners and the impact they have in our communities.

When Karalee Snyder was in high school, she would duck and hide to avoid her science and math classes. When she attended college, she put off biology until her last semester. So how did she end up an environmental analyst at Xcel Energy?

“It was sheer luck,” she laughs. “I hated science and I hated math until I was exposed to them. I had an amazing professor in college who showed me how science and math apply in real life.”

When Snyder began working at Xcel Energy’s Harrington Generation Station near Amarillo, Texas, in 2006, she was one of the few female environmental analysts. Not long after that she was approached about volunteering at a STEM conference, WISE (Women in Science Endeavors), for young girls in the Texas Panhandle.

Snyder started out as a presenter – an all-female group of local professionals – eventually served on the board and chaired the event for six years.

From “operating on” stuffed animals and designing wooden aircraft, to understanding the chemistries of perfume and building tables of paper, WISE provides sixth, seventh and eighth-grade girls with hands-on STEM experiences. Through activities and workshops and sessions with female STEM professionals, WISE makes learning fun and fulfilling, but it also builds the self-confidence and esteem girls need to pursue science, technology, engineering and math positions in the workforce, positions that are primarily dominated by men.

While women make up 47% of the country’s workforce, they only account for 13% of engineering and 25% of computer and math occupations, according to National Girls Collaborative Project.

“There is not a good representation of women in math and science,” Snyder states. “That’s why WISE steps in at an earlier age. By high school, many already have an idea of a career they want to pursue.”

But the times are changing. When Snyder began volunteering with WISE, it was challenging to find presenters. Now, they must turn them away. WISE invites presenters from throughout the community, including engineers from Bell Helicopter, scientists from Pantex Security, and analysts from Xcel Energy.

Last year, nearly 225 girls from Amarillo, Canyon and Bushland school districts attended WISE, a record number. Out of those 225, two dozen received scholarships.

“There was a girl from a poverty-stricken family,” Snyder recalls. “For three years, she had to get a ride to the conference with a neighbor. But WISE has given her the knowledge and confidence to make a turning point. She’s now in AACAL (Amarillo Area Center for Advanced Learning Alternative School) and going to go to college to be a doctor!”

And it’s not just the increasing attendance that proves WISE is making difference in the community. Every year, WISE receives letters about the impact the conference has had on the girls.

“Comparing the time the girls arrive to the time they leave, it’s a complete 180,” Snyder says. “They are nervous at first, but at the end of the day, they are so excited to show you what’ve they done. They are empowered and can go out and rule the world.”

Xcel Energy Foundation Focus Grants

The future of the communities we serve depends on the educational programs and systems that produce the next generation of STEM leaders and a skilled workforce for tomorrow. In 2018, the Xcel Energy Foundation invested $1.34 million into organizations that support STEM education, including WISE.

The Xcel Foundation is a 501(c)(3) organization that awards charitable grants to nonprofit organizations and sponsors the volunteer programs of Xcel Energy and its subsidiaries. The majority of Xcel Energy Foundation funding comes from Xcel Energy shareholder dollars. To learn more about the Xcel Energy Foundation, visit our website. If your organization is interested in applying for a grant, visit this page.  

Drew E.
Drew E.

As a communication consultant at Xcel Energy-Colorado, Drew helps create customer and community connections through storytelling.