The future of our planet is tied inextricably to technological and scientific advancements that call for a new generation of experts well versed in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) to lead the way. Many of these bright minds are still being formed, so SEMI Foundation created SEMI High Tech U to encourage them to follow STEM career paths. This intensive three-day program is held in communities around the globe to expose students aged 14-17 to STEM fields of study, and provide them with a basic understanding of what career choices they will have, as well as skills to help them get started. High-tech companies in various locations host the programs, and volunteers from the company and/or community teach all the modules.

Recently at Impress Labs’ Phoenix office, we hosted 26 students from three area high schools for the third day of their SEMI High Tech U experience. These kids blew us away with their energy, enthusiasm and aptitude for science and technology, not to mention their poise and maturity. I’m pretty sure we learned as much from them as they did from us, and we wish that this kind of program existed when we were their age.

Impress staff participated fully in the day’s activities. Managing Partner Martijn Pierik was the official master of ceremonies, welcoming the students, explaining Impress Labs’ role as a brand-driven communications agency in the solar, life science and semiconductor markets. Martijn also got to hand out their graduation certificates at the end of the day.

Ira Bennett, co-director of Arizona State University’s School for the Future of Innovation in Society, led the students in an interactive discussion about how research is funded in the United States.

Next, I had the pleasure of leading the Critical Thinking module, during which the students divided into teams to complete a team challenge. They were each tasked with a different real-world problem and had 30 minutes to design a solar-based solution to the problem, and prepare and present a four-minute presentation to Impress judges Scott Timms, Staci Charles and Andy Lucich. The judges had a tough time choosing the winner, as they were all impressive.

Our social media expert, Kate Wade, taught a Social Media module, engaging the students with a quiz to test their knowledge of teen social media use, and then discussed best practices with them, and how to use different platforms to help them choose a college, build their own brand, and engage with the professional community in an appropriate manner. She also taught them the importance of privacy settings, and demonstrated how easy it is for employers to find them on Facebook.

Siebe Van der Zee, president of Vanderzee & Associates, a global executive search firm, walked the students through techniques for interview preparation, after which the entire Phoenix Impress team—and a few recruits from the community—conducted mock job interviews and provided the students with real-life feedback on their performance. “I can’t believe my student was only 14 (15, 16 …). He/she was so confident,” was almost everyone’s general observation…. along with some great stories of responses that, while delivered in earnest, might not be the ones most suited for sharing with future employers. (“Well, I didn’t like the policy of not being allowed to use note cards during a presentation, so I got around it by writing the notes on my hand …”)

At the end of the day, the parents joined us for a graduation celebration and presentation of various challenge awards and scholarships. The highlight of my day was presenting Kailash Raman, graduate of a previous SEMI High Tech U Workshop in June, with the $2,500 3D InCites Awards Scholarship. You can read about him here.

To thank us for hosting them, the students presented us with this hand-drawn and autographed poster, which will be framed and hung on the wall and cherished for years to come.

This was such an amazing experience; we can’t wait to do it again. If you’re interested in hosting SEMI High Tech U at your company, visit SEMI Foundationto learn how.