Posted July 27, 2017 by Editorial Staff in Business
 
 

The Hidden GEM for Masters and Ph.D. STEM Scholarships

donn mcmahon
donn mcmahon

Share this page:
facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedintumblrmailfacebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedintumblrmail
Donn McMahon (second from left) and the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory Energy Monitor Development Team: (from left to right) Mark McKernan, Dmitri Ryutov, Richard Bionta, Daniel M. Behne, Keith Kishiyama, Stefan Hau-Riege, Vasco A. daCosta, Marty Roeben and Robert W. Geer.

Is this a sad story?

donn mcmahon

Donn McMahon – Division Leader, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

It was his last train ride. The 5 train from the Bronx rattled towards Manhattan like a tin can on loose rails. The sparking wheels seemed like they might blast off. The rush-hour commute sounded like a metal shop. But that’s how it always sounded and felt, so no one cared, including 21-year-old Donn McMahon, who steadied his black Samsonite roller. It was August 1988. NASA scientists Ron McNair, Guion S. Bluford, Jr., and Frederick Gregory had just been selected to become the first African-Americans astronauts.

Donn popped open his Sony Walkman and put in some Mozart before soon switching to Monk. Donn adjusted his headphones, wondering what the future held: MIT had been a good run. But that was undergrad. What would the Bay Area, UC Berkeley and its mechanical engineering program be like?

“That was the mindset I had when I first came to California,” explains Donn McMahon, now 50 and the Division Leader for one of the five Engineering divisions of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, located east of San Francisco and Berkeley. “I said to myself, look, I’m going to have to go someplace that I’m not immediately comfortable with. It could be a stretch. But growing up in New York, you can spend your whole life in Brooklyn and never make it up to the Bronx, or vice versa. If I was growing up in San Francisco, I’d want to see what’s going on in Berkeley, the Peninsula. I’d make the trip. I tell my mentees to look for opportunities beyond your immediate horizon, because you may find something that was not immediately available or something other than what everyone else is doing. Get the education, get the training, get the exposure. Through summer assignments, the internet, the media or your school, look for opportunities that will give you insights into what the school or profession you’re interested in is really like. Look for opportunities that are going to open new doors, provide exposure to new people, allow you to travel around the world. Those are the types of opportunities that are going to keep you interested and excited about your next step.”

One thing that Donn has always known is that, “Once you get your education, it’s portable. No one can take it from you. But it’s critical because it’s the basis from which you can launch into anything.” Donn ported his MIT degree to Berkeley, where he found an engineering program with an exceptionally high number of Black students, including future UC Davis Chancellor Dr. Gary May, and Deans of Engineering Dr. Robin Coger (North Carolina A&T), Dr. Reggie DesRoches (Rice University) and Dr. Darryl Pines (University of Maryland, College Park).

“One of the things we did at Berkeley was to find what we were passionate about—not just aligning with where the money was—and that was really important to choosing the right advanced degree and ultimately being happy with our career choices.” Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce recently released a study showing that a doctoral degree-holder will earn $3.3 million over a lifetime, compared to $2.3 million for a college graduate and $1.3 million for high school graduates.

Rebecca Bearse, Principal and Founder of Diverse Talent Solutions, observes: “In discussions concerning the dismal state of diversity and inclusion in Silicon Valley’s workplaces, one often forgets about the many non-profits working incredibly hard to prepare, support and nurture the same underserved students that could someday literally change the face, and thus the numbers and the story, in tech and beyond.”

feature-GEM_Internship Article Photo_TJ Rhodes

Gavin Miller, Adobe’s Head of Research, with former GEM intern TJ Rhodes, who is now a full-time Adobe hardware prototyping research engineer.

Donn’s life-changing Fellowship from the National GEM Consortium allowed him to attend UC Berkeley.  Six hundred candidates had met GEM’s lofty academic standards and completed a lengthy application process, but Donn’s was only one of 100 Fellowships awarded that year due to funding deficiency. Since 1976 GEM has provided approximately 4000 highly qualified candidates of color with full STEM Fellowships at the masters and Ph.D. level, as well as internships and full-time job placement in the tech industry. Alums include Bay Area natives and Wonder Women like Joan Tafoya, a senior director at Intel; and Shameeka Emanuel, a senior product manager at Amazon. GEM’s alumni list is a veritable who’s- who in STEM and other professions, such as luminaires Ursula Burns (former Xerox CEO), Reggie Van Lee (former Booz Allen  EVP), Powtawche (Pawtosh) William Valerino (NASA senior scientist), Mary Spio, CEO of the leading Virtual Reality company, CEEK VR, and San Francisco’s Dr. Juan Santiago, professor of mechanical engineering at Stanford.

One Silicon Valley workplace that has not forgotten its commitment to diversity and inclusion is Adobe. “About seven years ago,” explains Sara Perkovic, Adobe’s Director of Research Programs, “I was researching fellowship programs that support women and underrepresented groups, and I discovered GEM. What I immediately loved about GEM is the partnership between companies and universities, which ensures that the students are supported both by their universities throughout their education, and by companies, through internships and work experiences at corporations and government research labs. It’s a unique program. I have not seen another fellowship program that leverages such a broad community of organizations….GEM plays a key role in helping Adobe achieve its three main diversity and inclusion goals: building the pipeline, attracting diverse talent, and being inclusive through internal community networks and similar initiatives. The internship component makes a significant difference because it allows us to get to know the student. We want interns to be successful at Adobe and we also want to help them ascertain what they want to do with their masters and Ph.D.’s. Adobe works very hard on matching GEM interns with the right teams for their internships because it makes the difference between a student really enjoying the work and wanting to return to Adobe after graduation, versus a student thinking it was just a good experience.”

So was this a sad story?

GEM CEO Brennon Marcano speaking at the 2017 Culture Shifting Awards Weekend Brunch

GEM CEO Brennon Marcano speaking at the 2017 Culture Shifting Awards Weekend Brunch

“Only if you consider” clarifies GEM’s CEO Brennon Marcano, “GEM has to turn away 500 qualified applicants each year due to funding shortfall.  While we have been delivering, we can do much more given the amount of highly qualified candidates available.”

What would have happened to Apollo 11 if those “hidden figures” had not been at NASA? What would have happened if current NASA scientists Powtawche William Valerino had not received a GEM Fellowship?

As a part of the Engineering team at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, modest Donn McMahon has made significant impact in his 22 years with the laboratory. What would have happened if he had not received a GEM Fellowship? Fate can be a fickle mistress, especially on the 5 train. Would that really have been his last train ride as a New Yorker? Would he have ever made it out West to his first and only company, and family, of now 22 years?

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save