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Panasonic, NASA, NIA Collaborate to Support Equity in STEM

Panasonic, NASA, NIA Collaborate to Support Equity in STEM

NEWARK, N.J. – Panasonic and the Panasonic Foundation celebrated one year since breaking ground in De Soto, Kansas, on Panasonic Energy’s new $4 billion EV battery production facility by collaborating with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the National Institute of Aerospace (NIA). In recognition of this important milestone, these groups hosted a free, fun, family-friendly weekend of activities focused on STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education and career opportunities.

“A Space for All” STEM Fest, held on November 3-4, invited families and students of all ages to meet at Johnson County Community College in Overland Park, Kansas, to enjoy a weekend of interactive experiences, educational activities, guest speakers and informational exhibits – all with a focus on broadening access, diversity and inclusion in STEM fields. More than 1,000 students, parents, educators and community leaders from across the Greater Kansas City area attended the weekend’s events.

As Panasonic Energy prepares to create approximately up to 4,000 new jobs at the new De Soto plant, leaders are focused on supporting STEM curriculum, career readiness, and workforce development for area high school and college students. Whether through training in facilities or educating the next generation about clean technology and manufacturing, Panasonic is eager to broaden, deepen and strengthen the talent pool across Kansas and throughout the Kansas City region.

The event aimed to help address notable concerns and disparities in the STEM industry. Data has shown that STEM jobs will represent more than 80% of future U.S. jobs, but less than 20% of undergraduates pursue these degrees. Out of the 20 fastest growing occupations, 15 require serious mathematics or science preparation, yet research indicates that more than 90% of children will lose interest in STEM topics if they are not engaged by the 5th grade.

“Our mission at the Panasonic Foundation is to address the widespread gap between future tech jobs and education in STEM, especially in underserved communities,” said Alejandra Ceja, Vice President of the Office of Social Impact and Inclusion for Panasonic North America and Executive Director of the Panasonic Foundation. “We envision a diverse workforce prepared for the global 21st-century economy for companies like Panasonic and so many more. We are focused on strengthening and diversifying those interested in working in the tech industry, and the STEM Fest activities are one step in the right direction.”

The STEM Fest celebrated not just the anniversary of the facility’s groundbreaking, but it also marks the first phase of the Panasonic Foundation’s strategic outreach in the region. The Foundation has nearly 40 years of expertise in social impact with a strong network of organizations and stakeholders from across the country. STEM Fest was just the first example of using that expansive experience to engage with their new neighbors.

With interactive programs, workshops and activities designed specifically for different audiences and ages – including activities for middle school students, speakers focused on college curriculum and careers, and meetings to connect area nonprofits with potential funding opportunities – STEM Fest participants enjoyed the chance to interact with STEM education experts, explore cutting-edge technologies, and learn about the future of work in the tech industry in the greater Kansas City region and beyond.

A few of the event highlights included:

  • Keynote remarks from:
    • Dr. Geri Richmond, U.S. Department of Energy, Under Secretary for Science & Innovations
    • Dr. Mamta Patel Nagaraja, NASA, Associate Chief Scientist
    • Edward V. Gonzales, a Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility Lead at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center
  • A full-sized, battery-powered EV racer
  • An immersive planetarium
  • Informational tables and exhibits highlighting STEM curriculum and programming available through area colleges, universities and nonprofits
  • Hands-on activities with NASA included building your own paper rover and robot, learning about distances from the moon, and even a “spaghetti tower”
  • Complimentary copies of First Woman, NASA’s graphic novel and accompanying interactive experiences telling the story of the first woman to explore the Moon
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