Tanshaneika "Tangie" Swire understands the importance of having mentorship at an early age.
She learned about STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) career opportunities as a 15-year-old student attending Calumet High School in Chicago’s Auburn Gresham neighborhood. Soon after, she developed a knack for computers and participated in various company-sponsored computer competitions, including one held by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois.
Many of her fellow Chicago Public Schools classmates, however, didn’t know about those opportunities. Now, as senior director of intake and demand at BCBSIL, Swire takes time to ensure young women in Chicago Public Schools understand their career options.
“It’s our opportunity as a company to give back to the city of Chicago and its students,” she says. “To be on the other side really hits home.”
Swire was one of many employees who recently welcomed girls from Morgan Park High School to its health plan headquarters in Chicago as part of a program with the American Heart Association (AHA) that exposes students about careers in STEM and health care.
Twenty students participated in the AHA Go Red STEM event, which paired women volunteers in health care tech with students for speed mentoring sessions and project management games, among other activities.
“For me, this is the initial stage of making a connection with a student that’s looking to advance her career,” Swire says. “I was able to connect with many things that they're experiencing. I hope they saw their future in myself or someone else.”
For Nandi Guy, a freshman at Morgan Park High School, the mentoring rounds offered an opportunity to connect.
“The conversations were very inspirational,” says Guy, who plans to become a pediatrician. “Everyone seems to enjoy their jobs and I feel I got in touch with what it’s like to be a woman in a male-dominated career.”
Students also learned CPR, practiced on training dummies and heard from AHA experts about how cardiovascular disease disproportionately affects women and minority communities.
BCBSIL and the AHA have worked together for years, and this event encourages diverse groups of high school girls and potential first-generation college students to explore STEM careers.
"The goal of the event is to inspire the girls to consider pursuing STEM courses and careers and to allow them to connect with professional women who can share their individual journeys,” says Karen Adamson, head of customer service technology delivery at BCBSIL, who sits on the AHA Chicago Go Red Board. “We believe more women at the table will mean faster and better solutions to issues like women's heart health and stroke, and ultimately will result in better health care for all."
Out of 100 female students working toward a bachelor’s degree, only three will work in a STEM job 10 years post-graduation, according to the AHA.
Lakaiya Allen, a sophomore at Morgan Park High School, plans to start college courses this fall and eventually pursue an advanced degree in a STEM field.
“The mentors encouraged me to follow what I want to be in life and think about what I want to do after high school,” she says. “I learned to encourage myself and not let anyone stop your dreams.”