Step Up for STEM—Experiences that Pave the Way to a STEM Career

Step Up for STEM—Experiences that Pave the Way to a STEM Career

Maria Benitez on the Lumity Professional Network

Maria Benitez is an internal auditor with ten years of experience that cuts across finance, accounting, analytics, and IT systems. She is also the proud daughter of Mexican immigrants who work in a factory in rural Illinois as a machine operator and forklift driver. Maria credits her parents for instilling in her the discipline of hard work and commitment to education.

“I am so passionate about being involved with Lumity because I want to help other students like me have the supports, experiences, and opportunities I was offered,” explains Maria. “I am so grateful for the people who believed in me when I didn’t even believe in myself necessarily.”

Power of a Professional Network

Maria is one of the founding members of Lumity’s Associate Board, a group of young STEM leaders dedicating their time to helping Lumity break down the barriers between business, schools, and marginalized communities to develop the next generation of STEM professionals. 

“There is power in networks. Not only in the connections but in giving people opportunities and seeing how powerful it is when they step up,” Maria says when describing Lumity. “At the Lumity STEM Fair, I was mesmerized by the courage, creativity, and bravery the students showed at such a young age as they presented to leaders and articulated their passions and ideas.”

As an Associate Board member, Maria is actively recruiting other Chicago STEM professionals to join Lumity, noting how the Network helps her professionally. Like so many others during the COVID-19 pandemic, Maria was recently furloughed. Within a month, however, she landed a new position and credited her Lumity and external connections for doing so. “It was my mentors, the same people who introduced me to Lumity, who gave me the confidence to ‘believe’ in myself as I looked to embark on new opportunities,” says Maria. “What’s exciting is that my new company, CDW, is also actively involved with Lumity, which gives me a common interest to connect with co-workers right off the bat.” 

Transformational STEM Experiences

When Maria talks about her childhood, she highlights the transformational experiences that paved the way to her STEM career. The first was an entrepreneurship course in high school, where she launched a successful smoothie business during lunch. A connection then led her to an afterschool back office job, where her interest in business grew. These experiences inspired her to attend Northern Illinois University to obtain a business degree. There, a connection led to another transformational experience: a friend and volleyball teammate’s father offered her a summer internship in accounting.

“I firmly believe that if I did not have that summer internship, I would not have gained the necessary business experience to qualify for a PwC internship the following summer, which I then converted into full-time employment,” Maria recounts. “These are the reasons why I relate to Lumity and its mission. I believe the experiences and support I had—and the ones Lumity provides—are critical for students, particularly for students like me, whose parents might not have the background nor expertise necessary to guide them through college or help them progress through a career.”

Maria’s experiences are exactly the ones Lumity tries to replicate and make intentional for the teens and young adults we work with. These experiences are, in fact, how Lumity breaks down barriers: We provide transformational STEM experiences and ongoing supports so that Chicagoland teens and young adults are inspired and prepared for STEM-related jobs and careers. It’s also why we do it: We believe, like Maria and all of our volunteers and donors, that every child deserves these opportunities.

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