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AFCEA Bethesda’s Philanthropic Endeavors
In its primary role, AFCEA Bethesda is a catalyst for building better government, mainly by strengthening alliances between federal agencies and industry partners. Improving IT infrastructure improves government.
Less known, perhaps, is AFCEA Bethesda’s role as a philanthropic organization. Throughout the year, AFCEA Bethesda hosts events and gatherings to promote community, mission, management and engagement. Proceeds from those events fund science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) scholarships and other charitable causes.
Moreover, AFCEA Bethesda provides non-financial support to deserving organizations. The chapter creates opportunities for beneficiaries to reach audiences at AFCEA Bethesda’s events and to share their missions with thousands of attendees. In recent years, the Bethesda chapter’s events have helped Women Veterans Interactive, Friends of Patients at the NIH, and the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund.
STEM Education & Scholarships
A main focus of AFCEA Bethesda’s philanthropic mission is the support of local STEM education and scholarships. The Bethesda chapter works with secondary schools and institutions of higher education to ensure that all students receive educational opportunities in STEM fields, with a focus on increasing diversity in STEM areas. In addition, the chapter contributes to the development of a next generation workforce that will be needed to fill the coming wave of STEM jobs.
To that end, AFCEA Bethesda encourages a collaborative culture and welcomes students in their programs to attend chapter events. Mentoring by way of participation helps students to broaden their awareness of and to prepare for STEM careers. The Bethesda chapter helps more than 50 middle school students annually through STEM programs, supports three Maryland college and university scholarship programs, and contributes in excess of $100,000 to various community organizations.
“It’s amazing being able to help young adults who have dreams to enter the STEM workforce. The programs we support open up a whole new world for them. Getting more students into STEM helps build a pipeline of new STEM talent needed by industry,” said Debbie Opiekun, a member of AFCEA Bethesda’s Board of Directors and vice president of its Education Committee. Debbie is an executive vice president at Leidos.
Contribution to Technica
AFCEA Bethesda recently contributed to Technica, the world’s largest hackathon for underrepresented genders. A donation from the chapter helped to immerse largely underrepresented genders in tech culture, providing participants the freedom and ability to think creatively while applying their skills. To showcase inclusivity, the theme of last year’s hackathon, a hybrid event, was “Welcome Home.”
“We’d love to have a presence at this year’s Technica event. It’s an organization that gives opportunities to those who otherwise wouldn’t have them and emphasizes STEM education –
a very worthy cause that aligns perfectly with AFCEA Bethesda’s core mission,” said Katie Keegan, a member of the Board of Directors and vice president of the chapter’s Energy, Infrastructure & Environment (EIE) committee. Katie is an account manager at Citrix.
Inclusivity & Equality of Women
AFCEA Bethesda also emphasizes the inclusivity of women. The chapter is hosting a virtual seminar, Women in Leadership: Lead Like a Woman, on Feb. 23. Panels for this year’s event will be based on best-selling leadership books, such as “Dare to Lead” by Brené Brown, and “How We Rise” by Claudia Chan. Sessions will encourage discussion about how women are making their marks as leaders in a male-dominated industry. Attendees will also consider challenges and successes encountered by women in leadership positions in the federal government.
The Bethesda chapter supports other forms of equality, as well, providing a forum for exploring issues of neurodiversity in the workplace. AFCEA Bethesda’s Emerging Leaders Professional Development Series recently hosted a forum on neurodiversity attended by leaders in government and industry.
Attendees learned that neurodiversity encompasses a range of issues that go beyond the typical definition of diversity – including everything that shapes our perspective and perception of the world. The group discussed obstacles and opportunities surrounding the creation of diverse, equitable, inclusive, and accessible (DEI&A) workplaces. Noting that equal-opportunity barriers impede DEI&A, beginning with the hiring process and continuing into employment, panelists called on government to remove obstacles.
If agencies fail to cultivate neurodiverse workforces, they will continue to function in a cognitive tunnel, thinking, acting and being the same as always, panelists said, and thinking differently should no longer be considered a negative in the workplace. Operating beyond the boundaries of known behavior (aka innovation) starts with thinking outside the box.
How to Get Involved
AFCEA Bethesda has a long history of giving back to the community. There are many ways to get involved, from joining a planning committee to attending an upcoming event. The Bethesda chapter shares members’ time, the chapter’s financial proceeds, and its educational events to help recipients in need.
“Something that sticks out to me about AFCEA Bethesda is the genuine care and concern there is with giving back to worthy causes in our community and continuously putting on notable events. This is consistent with every board member of this chapter. They all truly care about the mission,” Keegan said.
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