FUNDING AREAS: STEM education
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PROFILE: Jeniffer Harper-Taylor has worked at the Siemens Foundation since 2000, and has led the high-profile STEM funder since 2010 when she was promoted to president. Once a TV news journalist, then a longtime human resources exec, Harper-Taylor has risen to prominence as an important advocate for STEM education, especially when it comes to increasing representation of women and minorities in the fields.
She oversees a portfolio of around $7 million in giving, all going to science, technology, engineering and mathematics education, through programs like the Siemens Competition and the We Can Change the World Challenge. She’s a strong believer in the power of partnerships and of celebrating STEM work, and it shows in the programs she oversees.
“Our leaders need to be fierce advocates for STEM education. They need to be engaged in and excited by STEM topics and passionate about making the case for STEM as a national priority,” she told STEMconnector.
As passionate as she is about the topic, Harper-Taylor doesn’t have a background in science. She attended Southern University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where she earned a bachelor’s degree studying communications. She started out her career as a television reporter in Rochester, New York, but ultimately spent 10 years working in human resources.
From there, Harper-Taylor started her work at Siemens as a program manager, initially working on a program to transition winners of the Siemens Competition into future hires for the company. She would eventually manage the foundation’s signature programs, expanding them and using partnerships with outfits like the College Board and Discovery Education to expand their reach. In 2010, she was named president of the foundation.
Siemens Foundation is a sizable, corporate-sponsored philanthropy of the global electronics and engineering firm, first established in 1998, when the company established a stronger presence in the United States through mergers. The foundation started out hosting the Siemens Competition in Math, Science and Technology. The even has grown over the years, notably into demographics and geographies that aren’t usually as well-represented in such an event. The esteemed competition involves some of the top universities and requires original, mentored research performed by high school students.
The foundation has also expanded to other programs, such as the professional development program Siemens STEM Academy, and a K-12 sustainability competition called the We Can Change the World Challenge.
While many STEM education foundations have a focus on diversity, Harper-Taylor brings a valuable perspective as one of few African American heads of such a funder. She’s highly active in building minority participation in STEM fields, through her work at Siemens and in other roles. Harper-Taylor is a charter member of the Advisory Board for the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) Office for Access and the Advancement of Public Black Universities. She formerly served as the diversity chairperson for Siemens Corporation, USA. And she’s involved in a number of community organizations in her hometown of Atlanta, including Big Brothers and Big Sisters, the NAACP, and Urban League.
Harper-Taylor also is a frequent public speaker, having delivered the keynote speech at the College Board’s conference on issues affecting African American students, and the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics’ 2011 MLK Day celebration. She’s a frequent voice in the media on such issues as well, including having contributed to the New York Times “Room for Debate” opinion feature, in which she argued for the importance of better human resources training and recognition of accomplishments as ways to advance women in STEM fields.
“The benefits of diversity in the workplace are well documented and universities need to commit to diverse staffing,” she wrote in her opinion piece. And later, “On a broader cultural level, we also need to counter the myth that girls don’t do science. One way is to make sure we recognize women for excellence in STEM.”