For nearly a decade, the Fab Foundation has partnered with Chevron in our shared commitment to increase STEM education opportunities for students in underserved communities throughout the United States. Among its numerous impactful outcomes to date, this joint effort has resulted in more than 20 new Fab Labs opening around the country (with others planned and already underway in a variety of locations across the globe) and has also given rise to SCOPES-DF—a community of practice designed to help STEM educators introduce digital fabrication to their classrooms.
Key to the success of this longtime partnership is Karen Rawls, Senior Social Investment Advisor at Chevron, part of a team of Chevron advisors across the US. Overseeing a national K-12 education program—including robust professional development resources for educators—and partnering with Chevron’s university affairs, which involves scholarship and mentorship programs, in addition to significant investment in Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Rawls has her hands in a wide array of community impact projects. And, in all that she does, one sees clear evidence of a genuine passion to bring about social equity.
We spoke with Rawls recently to learn more about the historic impact of her work and hear what she has her sights set on for the future.
Fab Foundation: Our organizations have worked together closely for a number of years. What, for you, have been some of the most memorable achievements of that collaboration?
Rawls: At Chevron, we always want to make sure that we support our communities, providing what they need—not what we think they need. It has to be a partnership. We don't just write a check; we're invested all the way down to the nuts and bolts. We are committed to making the program successful and sustainable..
This is a reflection of our company culture and Fab Foundation’s, as well as that of the organizations we support. We are all connected, and we share the same values: supporting the community, making sure that each project is fit for purpose and, again, that it's what the community wants. We truly listen and engage with all stakeholders to understand how community members are going to be involved, ensuring that each program is supported beyond Chevron’s funding.
And each one is unique. They're not clones. Even if we’re just talking about Fab Labs. They all have their own distinct personality and branding element—fit for purpose.
One that really stands out for me, personally, is the Houston Fab Lab. It was done with Baker Ripley, a wonderful nonprofit. There's a school on the campus. There's a bank. Of course, the Fab Lab is there and a mobile Fab Lab. But they also have legal services, immigration services; it's really a community center with the Fab Lab as the focal point of that community. It was a proud moment for me, helping to find the space for that project and figuring out how to make it happen.
I’m also quite proud of the recent investments that we’ve made in Historically Black Colleges and Universities, in addition to support that we’ve already been providing in the social equity space toward diversity and inclusion. We decided to establish Fab Labs at HBCUs. And we don't just have stationary labs; we have mobile units as well because a lot of these schools are in rural and hard-to-reach areas. We’re working with Florida A&M University and Fort Valley State, which is the one university that will have both a mobile unit and a stationary Lab. They're going to be opening this fall.
Building those programs from the ground up and having community members involved is just fantastic.
You’ve also played an integral role in establishing the Chevron Fab STEM Fellowship. Care to talk about that?
We were looking for ways to amplify our partnership, recognize and celebrate teachers, and expose educators to the different elements of teaching and learning that take place across this community. We decided to create a fellowship. We launched the program earlier this year, and we had hundreds of applicants from all over the world!
So, we established selection criteria based on innovation, creativity, and passion for education, among other factors. And, after many hours and a lot of debate, we ended up selecting two winners: Nathan Pritchett of Tulsa, Oklahoma and Pieter Verduijn of Calabas, Aruba. Each received a $10,000 stipend and paid expenses to go explore, learn, and share. Now, these two fellows are traveling the world, visiting Labs, teaching, and sharing what they've learned across their journeys.
At the end of their travels, they’ll pass the baton. And this coming fall, we're going to be adding two more fellowships, which will include our HBCU educators. We’ll also be creating a network to provide a space for fellows to come and talk about what they've learned and share their experiences across the globe.
Speaking of traveling the world, very soon we’ll all be gathering in Thimphu, Bhutan for FAB23. What are you most looking forward to at that event?
One of the things that I always like to do when I go to a conference is to leave something behind. I like to help the local community. And one of the best ways to do that is to learn about it. I think it will be important to be there to learn about some of the Bhutanese community’s needs. Then, we can determine what type of support they may need.
We may be able to provide some type of funding in 2024, whether to help get equipment there or create a sustainable project. But I need to first hear from that community because what I perceive as a need may not be what they actually need. So, hearing it and seeing it firsthand will hopefully spark some ideas and provide a way that we can leave a legacy in 2024.
And I would also like to use this momentum—the energy of the in-person gathering—for future Fab conferences. Next year, the event is in Mexico. What are some of the emerging needs that we can begin considering now in preparation for that conference? It would be great to begin that work beforehand while the Fab community is all together in one place.
Keep an eye on our Schedule page to find out when Karen Rawls will be presenting at FAB23 Bhutan!