April 2, 2024

Vicki Taylor’s journey in the world of STEM began in the mid-1980s after she graduated from college with a degree in computer science and applied math from the University of California Riverside. Following her graduation, Vicki worked in the defense industry for many years. However, once her three children became teenagers, she decided to pursue a career that allowed her to continue her passions while also spending time with her children.

Vicki returned to her local university in Colorado Springs where she embarked on a new path as a math teacher. During this time, she received a grant from the Air Force for scientific research focused on studying STEM readiness among high school students. This marked a shift in her professional career, becoming involved in pre-collegiate education for the first time.

In 2009, Vicki transitioned into her new role on campus, collaborating with local middle schools in both urban and rural settings. Her efforts were driven by her dedication to expanding STEM opportunities for priority populations and military-dependent students. Her success in this role led her to eventually become the assistant director for precollegiate programs at the university. 

A crucial aspect of Vicki’s precollegiate curriculum is Unite, a STEM exploration program for high school students in the summer. Over the past eight years, Unite has evolved into a robust summer program, offering hands-on projects ranging from building drones to delving into cybersecurity and AI. Through field trips and engaging activities, students are exposed to the myriad career opportunities within STEM, with a particular focus on engineering and technology.

As the STEM landscape continues to evolve, and as new trends and technologies emerge, Vicki constantly refines and updates Unite’s curriculum to reflect the modern landscape. For example, in previous years, students were given the motor and electronic components of a drone and were tasked with building the drone frame from everyday objects. Now, they are presented with a similar project but must program the controller for the drone to fly. The evolved project still teaches STEM concepts like understanding center of gravity, but coding drones to fly is much more relevant to today’s scientific landscape.

One of Vicki’s core objectives as program lead for Unite and assistant director for precollegiate programs at the University of Colorado Colorado Springs is to actively recruit women, first-generation students, and priority population students. Inclusivity and diversity in STEM are important parts of her work, and she is constantly striving to grow a program and a community where all aspiring scientists and engineers can thrive. Moreover, Vicki’s emphasis on mentorship ensures that students feel empowered to pursue their passions, regardless of expectations or stereotypes.

One of the most rewarding aspects of Vicki’s work is witnessing the impact different STEM programs have on students’ lives. In her role, Vicki supports students prior to their enrollment in college and is able to help counsel students through defining moments in their lives: identifying their passions, choosing their major, selecting their college, finding a specific program, and exploring what lies beyond college. However, and more importantly, Vicki is able to forge meaningful connections with these students and enjoy their successes.

For those stepping into the world of Unite, Vicki Taylor has some advice:

“Come in with an open mind and a willingness to explore. Our program is a safe space to be your nerdy self – where your passion for STEM isn’t just accepted, it’s celebrated. There’s no need to worry about being judged for your interests. In a traditional school setting, it’s not always easy to openly embrace your STEM interests without feeling out of place. But within Unite, students can freely explore their passions together, forming relationships that go beyond shared hobbies. So, come prepared to learn, to dive into exciting projects, and most importantly, to embrace your inner nerd among friends who understand and appreciate your love for STEM.”

About Unite

Unite brings high school students a summer full of impactful STEM learning–and fun! Learn more about Unite, a program administered by the Technology Student Administration, here. Interested in bringing Unite to your college or university? Contact Mimi Leonard at mleonard@tsaweb.org.

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