Confessions of a STEMinist

A message from Community WISE program manager Leslie Simmons

I don’t have a background in STEM. In fact, when I was in high school, I thought an engineer was someone who wore blue pinstripes and worked on the railroad. Why, I wondered, did my peers have to go to Cal Poly for this career pursuit?

The last math class I took was more than 20 years ago as a freshman in college. Even worse? I received a C in what was probably one of two science classes I took at the university: female physiology.

So yes, I received a liberal arts degree and today earn a living in marketing and communications.

In spite of my early challenges with science and math – or perhaps because of them – I am a STEMinist today.

The vision of Community WISE is to build resources and lead change so that every woman and girl achieves her full STEM potential. I wonder what my relationship to math and science would have been had I been aware of the many and varied STEM careers available to me? What other work might I be doing today had I received guidance and mentorship that gave me confidence in my STEM abilities?

Now that I am a mom to a curious child exploring their future pathways, I believe it is more important than ever to open doorways and provide resources that help every young person envision their future and realize their potential. Not every girl will want to pursue STEM, but we MUST provide meaningful and equitable opportunities to explore their options in these fields. Let’s give girls the chance to make an informed decision about their STEM potential by building their knowledge and confidenceversus choosing a default path away from STEM due to lack of support.

We seek to build a vibrant network of people, investments and initiatives connecting women and girls to enrichment opportunities for STEM education and careers. So let’s start with people. Whether you have a PhD in astrophysics or you’re a stay-at-home mom (or dad!), I need you in our network.

By working together, we can ensure girls are provided opportunities to engage in STEM exploration that opens their eyes and lights up their minds to a myriad of possibilities. And if you believe this work is as important as I do, I hope you will spread the word and share our mission with others, because diversity and gender parity in the STEM workforce are crucial to scientific advancement and economic growth.

One way I’m hoping you’ll engage in 2021 is through our new virtual speaker series, STEMspiration. We launch on January 21 with Carmen Medina who worked for 32 years at the CIA. We chose her not for her STEM background, but because she is a self-proclaimed rebel and successful change agent in what is probably one of the most rigid institutions in the world.

Let’s get inspired by Carmen’s example and become change agents in the world of STEM. Invite friends to our series. Invite daughters, nieces, moms, dads, teachers. Let’s build and lead change together through a vibrant network in pursuit of every girl reaching her full STEM potential.


P.S. There are other ways to engage with us – contact me anytime to learn more!

2020: When the Only Certain Thing Has Been Uncertainty

Message from Kathy Goodacre, CEO

As 2020 ends, I cannot help but reflect. It’s an annual tradition to look back on accomplishments and set our sights on new goals for the coming year. In considering milestones today, I began by looking back at our January 30 newsletter – released just 10 days after the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in the United States. So much has changed for us all!
All I can say is: what a year!
Yes, we all had many challenges. But we also had some big successes.

We expanded our partnership with YouthTruth Student Survey, which illustrated how our county’s students are affected more deeply than their out-of-county peers by the impacts of distance learning coupled with catastrophic fires experienced over the past several years. The results are so powerful and rich that it is not only informing the crucial need for the kind of engagement and hands-on learning that career technical education provides, but is guiding community-wide discussions and decision-making in areas such as housing, health, family and mental support services.


We joined others by standing behind: Black lives matter.And we started on a path to address systemic racism by making meaningful change through understanding and education; in both ourselves and our organization by engaging in honest conversations about race and unconscious bias. We commit in 2021 to continue engaging our staff and board as we strive for greater diversity, equity and inclusion in all layers of our work.


We had so much fun with our first Virtual Girls Tinker Academy. For two weeks last summer, 27 girls explored STEM concepts at home through guided hands-on activities and challenges where they were able to connect, get inspired and build confidence in science and engineering.



We zoomed, zoomed and zoomed some more. The important work we do to support students did not and cannot stop, and CTE Foundation staff have been working productively from home since March. On the bright side, we now have dozens of career exploration interviews and virtual activities such as tours and live panels on our website. And students are engaging, with over 2,400 views since the summer. 


We shared our impact. We released our first annual impact report (2018-2019) which illustrates how our investment model is working and our approach to aligning education with workforce development is leading to transformational learning.


We invested quickly and wisely. In response to teachers telling us what they most needed most, we launched a distance learning grant program to get materials to students in maker, engineering and construction courses. The grant program was further expanded this fall, opening up to include other CTE programs aligned with key local economic sectors and workforce development needs. To date, nearly $40,000 has been granted to 18 local teachers benefitting 1,500 high school students.


Given the accomplishments of 2020, I cannot help but be extremely proud of the innovation and resilience of my staff to meet the needs of students and teachers through a crisis that we never could have predicted. I am grateful for our board and community partners who have cheered us along the way. And I am awed by the empathy, creativity and dedication of our educators persevering through so much that has been unknown, unpredictable and uncertain.
I’ll share more next month about what I’m looking forward to in 2021. For now, please enjoy a safe holiday season with your family. Thank you for your continued interest and engagement in our mission.

-Kathy Goodacre

Do you know how to juggle?

Message from Brandon Jewell | Director of Industry Engagement

“When life gives you lemons, learn to juggle!”

When the shelter-in-place order hit last spring, I admit it was difficult for me to understand how best to do my job, which is to connect teachers and their students to local employers to help young people explore and prepare for career opportunities here in Sonoma County. This is a crucial part of CTE curriculum because it helps students understand the real-world relevance to both the academic and hands-on learning they’re doing in class.

As April 1 rolled around, it was clear that school-community engagement was going to look different than ever before. But CTE Foundation was committed to finding a way to spark students’ interest through engaging opportunities.

I began by recording one-on-one interviews with local employers to help students explore careers from home. These were a hit for students and teachers, but we at CTE Foundation wanted to do more to actively engage students and allow them to interact with employers.

lemonsOver the summer, we conceptualized a year’s worth of virtual activities with a focus on local career opportunities. In October, we partnered with the Sonoma County Economic Development Board, Sonoma County Office of Education and local employers to design five live activities including virtual facility tours, manufacturing demonstrations and panel discussions.

There is no substitute for in-person learning, but we’ve discovered that virtual activities allow us to impact more students per activity than we ever could in person. Instead of a single class with 25 students, hundreds of students can engage with one activity! These virtual experiences provide an opportunity to be live and interactive, but recordings are available on YouTube, allowing students to learn on their own time.

Thanks to partnerships with local employers, these activities are made for and by local people, connecting students to career opportunities in Sonoma County and providing an important distinction between any other videos or learning activities found online.

November is Construction Month and we’ve partnered with the North Coast Builders Exchange to bring more live virtual activities to students. We look forward to bringing teachers and students a full school year of live and interactive virtual activities that offer the unique opportunity to connect with and learn from local employers.

We’d love you to get involved. Reach out to me to learn how you can support these virtual activities. To see all of the past and future activities, visit

Brandon Jewell, Director of Industry Engagement, CTE Foundation

Industry partners in construction and engineering have been sharing their educational and career pathways with students through interviews, virtual tours and panels.
Check out all the virtual activities available here.

Career Technical Education (CTE) Foundation Pivoting to Support Students and Educators Amidst Covid-19



Santa Rosa, California (April 23, 2020) – With education as we know it flipped upside down, Career Technical Education (CTE) Foundation is pivoting to address the challenges that the shelter-in-place order has created for learning. Following extensive conversations with partners and funded programs, CTE Foundation is implementing three initiatives to support students and educators during home-based remote learning.

  1. Maker Kit Grant Program: It is well documented that instructors are struggling with the unexpected shift to teaching students from their homes, but CTE teachers have a particularly tough challenge due to the “real-world,” hands-on approach that the career technical education model delivers. Through surveys of high school CTE teachers and work-based learning coordinators in Sonoma County, CTE Foundation has identified that teachers are struggling to get materials to their students to support maker, engineering, construction and design curriculum. To address the need, CTE Foundation is offering grants for currently funded CTE courses to provide custom supply kits that support teachers’ instructional plans and allow for quality hands-on activities and learning from home.
  2. Multi-disciplinary Project Teams: CTE Foundation is partnering with Sonoma County Office of Education (SCOE) to support three high school interdisciplinary teams between now and the end of school year to create innovative remote learning experiences for students. Teacher teams at Healdsburg, Windsor and Rancho Cotate High Schools will collaborate to create projects that address material in each respective subject area and work with students and industry mentors to solve authentic community problems. “Mandatory remote learning in our schools poses significant challenges,” says Chuck Wade, program coordinator at SCOE. “But it also removes some traditional barriers – like bell schedules – to allow for true multi-disciplinary project development. We’re seeing this as an opportunity to support innovative and relevant learning for our students during the Covid-19 lockdown and I think it will carry beyond this crisis.”
    Girls Tinker Academy Going Virtual: This two-week summer academy for middle school girls that introduces Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) concepts through maker activities is currently being redesigned to go virtual. Sonoma State University Assistant Professor Natalie Hobson, who designed and has led the Girls Tinker Academy for the past two years, is researching best practices and assembling materials to support girls’ hands-on exploring at home. “It’s not a time to be canceling programs like this. Girls need support more than ever to pursue STEM education and career pathways,” says Natalie. “By reimagining this program amidst this crisis, we can keep them engaged and connected to their peers and to learning.”

Funding to support these new initiatives is provided in part from a $15,000 grant from Sonoma County Vintners Foundation. The Vintners Foundation announced the awards last month and informed recipients they would be allowed to “repurpose” their funding as needed to address urgent issues related to Covid-19. In addition, CTE Foundation is continuing fundraising efforts through the crisis to support and expand these and other ongoing initiatives.

“We are grateful to the Sonoma County Vintners Foundation for allowing us to utilize the grant to address the very real and urgent needs of our educational system,” said CTE Foundation CEO Kathy Goodacre. “Our aim is to fulfill our mission to innovate the education-to-career experience for students, which includes pivoting our support in response to emerging needs.  Career technical education is proven to increase student engagement which through these initiatives we hope to provide the support our kids need to remain connected and learning during this unprecedented time.”

New Community-Driven Online Resource Supporting Sonoma County Girls and Women Pursuing STEM Education & Careers Launched



Santa Rosa, California (October 25, 2019) – STEMhub, a web-based platform designed as a dynamic resource for women and girls interested in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education and careers is now live.

STEMhub is the first online resource to serve as a clearinghouse for women and girls in the North Bay to learn about regional STEM-related opportunities such as classes, meetups, events, seminars, careers and conferences. It is designed to connect “learners” – those interested in pursuing STEM education or career pathways – with “mentors” who are already working in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math.

Nationally and in California, the demand for a skilled STEM workforce is growing and STEM jobs offer higher salaries than non-STEM jobs. Women working in STEM jobs earn, on average, 33% more than those in other fields, yet women account for only 24% of the STEM workforce. Women’s under-representation in STEM fields begins early, with gender gaps in STEM interests beginning in middle school and growing throughout high school, college and career.

To address these challenges, the Career Technical Education (CTE) Foundation launched Community WISE (Women Investing in STEM Equity) in 2017, a coalition of individuals and organizations wishing to invest in support structures for women and girls in STEM. CWISE has been working strategically for two years to identify innovative solutions that enrich learning experiences and inform career exploration such that more North Bay women and girls will be encouraged to pursue STEM education and careers. An example of this effort includes the successful Girls Tinker Academy, a two-week summer camp that utilizes maker principles and activities to introduce and teach STEM concepts (see Press Democrat article from June 30, 2019).

“STEMhub is a way for us to both broaden and deepen our impact for girls in the North Bay by allowing us to engage with potentially thousands of women and girls instead of just dozens,” said Amber Figueroa, associate executive director at CTE Foundation. “We’re really excited about the mentor component because research shows that when women and girls are introduced to strong STEM role models who are women, a career in these fields becomes as attractive and attainable as any other.”

The STEMhub web platform uses gaming strategy in its design and offers “badges” to learners for participating in various local STEM events, connecting with other learners and mentors, and for building a mentorship relationship. Learners are separated into pathways according to their current level of STEM participation and can move to other paths depending on their engagement with the platform. Once learners become more experienced in their chosen STEM fields, they receive a certificate from the platform, and they are encouraged to apply for mentorship on STEMhub to help other young women find their own way in any STEM field.

With direction from the CWISE Steering Committee, STEMhub platform development has been led by Dr. Julia Mossbridge, a scientist, technologist, and author who puts together technology teams. “This launch is really thrilling for me,” Mossbridge gushed. “I’ve been in this field for twenty years and this is the first time I’ve worked with an all-woman team, believe it or not. I’m not saying it’s better; I’ve worked with excellent men too, but for this project there is of course a feeling of commitment among these women. This experience reinforces my belief that we need more women in STEM not because it’s simply ‘fair’ or ‘equitable,’ but because we need people who think in many different ways to solve difficult problems, and my team has done just that.”

STEMhub is a community driven resource web-page, so community members with a background or experience in STEM – or simply with a passion for supporting women and girls to pursue STEM education or careers – are invited to begin populating the site with community events and mentor profiles. Simply log on to to add community events or register as a mentor.

For more information, visit and