San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo at Anne Darling Elementary School announcing a Google grant to Catholic Charities of Santa Clara County to build a new STEM lab at the school.

In the Silicon Valley, the shortage of graduates with STEM degrees is acutely felt. On Google’s “careers” site, a search for “program management” will yield 300 open positions for qualified individuals just to work on program management initiatives. It’s no wonder then that Google is tailoring its philanthropic mission to meet its future goals.

On March 2, Google announced that it was going to invest $325,000 in a grant to Catholic Charities to help support an after-school learning program for children at the Anne Darling Elementary in San Jose. The program, called the Communities Organizing Resources to Advance Learning or the CORAL program, has over 119 kids attending every day with 45% female, and 92% Latino. This is an early educational thrust to increase diversity of interest in STEM subjects.

“Students have you heard of Google?” asked Adrian Schurr, the Bay Area Giving Program Manager at Google, of the dozens of students sitting on the carpet at the Anne Darling multi-purpose room. “Who likes learning about science? Learning about experiments, about the environment, cool stuff like that? What about technology? Learning about video games, about computers … Have you ever thought about working on something like that, where you create your own apps, create your own games? Well, hopefully with today’s announcement you’ll be one step closer to doing something like that.” A robust show of enthusiastic young hands responded to all of Schurr’s questions.

Schurr announced that part of the grant would be going towards building a computer lab with spanking new equipment. Myra Khawaja Kaelin, a spokesperson for Catholic Charities, said that the project was close to her heart. The Anne Darling Elementary school was picked because the school was able to give space to implement the STEM lab that is to be built, Kaelin explained.

Catholic Charities’ CORAL program is implemented in 22 elementary schools in the Franklin-McKinley and San Jose unified school districts. San Jose has a 32% Asian population out of which 4.6% are of Indian origin according to the 2010 census.

Children at Anne Darling Elementary School

According to Kaelin, the idea for Google to invest in an elementary school after-school program started to gain momentum soon after she sat down with Javier Gonzalez, the government and communications manager at Google, and she and her team were able to present all the different initiatives that Catholic Charities was spearheading in the Bay Area.

“Google believes in investing in the community, and the opportunity to work with a STEM program was something we were excited about and they were excited about,” Gonzalez added.

This was the single largest grant to the Catholic Charities, stated Gregory R. Kepferle, CEO of the Catholic Charities of Santa Clara County.

The new STEM after-school lab program would prepare students to be thinkers, leaders and creators of tomorrow, said J. Dominic Behrano, the assistant superintendent of San Jose unified School district, in a speech to the students. “We know that STEM is our future. 60% of all economic growth in this country is due to scientific, technological advances,” Behrano stressed adding that underserved children in particular need access to the resources that Google’s investment provides.

San Jose council member Raul Perales talked about his life and how his early interest in a STEM subject gave him options. “I have a degree in mathematics and, so for me, a lot of that began right here just like you, enjoying tremendous opportunities of after school enrichment,” he told the young students. “Now, for me, it didn’t lead to being a mathematician, but it did lead to being a police officer and now a council representative. So, a STEM career can actually take you anywhere, including the moon,” he declared.

The students were visibly excited when they were told that Google had invited them on a tour of their campus in Mountain View. “I look forward to all the new exciting and fun projects and activities this grant will offer,” one student remarked.

“We’re going to need you guys. Somebody’s got to run the city in thirty years,” quipped San Jose mayor Sam Liccardo, to the students. Using a sports metaphor, Liccardo said that it was important to get everybody on the playing field. “We can’t have people sitting on the sidelines and watching everyone. We need everybody playing. And Google gets that. That’s why they’re investing in education right now,” he added. An investment in STEM education was an investment in the future of the valley and future in technological advancement, said Liccardo.

“STEM is important because it affects every aspect of our lives. Thank you, Google for investing in us. We are the future STEM leaders of the Silicon Valley,” a young student declared, holding a ‘Thank You Google’ sign.

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