Lilian Wang's Impactful Volunteering With STEM Advantage

Common Impact's Volunteer Spotlight Blog
May 29, 2024 10:45 AM ET
Lilian Wang from NVIDIA

Originally published on

At the heart of STEM Advantage‘s mission lies a powerful commitment to mentor, prepare, and inspire ethnic minorities, females, and first-generation students to pursue careers in STEM fields. This cause serves as a beacon of hope for countless individuals striving to break barriers and achieve their dreams. However, like many nonprofits, STEM Advantage faces challenges that can slow its progress.

Fortunately, there are volunteer champions like Lilian Wang who are stepping up to support nonprofits. Through skills-based programming supported by Common Impact and companies like NVIDIA, volunteers’ skills and talents are matched with the unique business challenges nonprofits face.

Join us as we delve into how Lilian, a Program Manager at NVIDIA, leveraged her skills and talents to support STEM Advantage’s mission and data visualization goals.

Volunteering helps me break away from work and life stress by focusing my time and attention on something bigger than myself. It fosters a sense of connection and belonging, whether to the mission itself or the act of volunteering.

Why does volunteering and giving back matter to you?

Volunteering allows me to contribute positively to communities in a tangible way, knowing that my actions have a meaningful impact on people’s lives. Volunteering helps me grow personally by pushing me out of my comfort zone and allowing me to gain new perspectives and skills. Additionally, it fosters a sense of belonging and team building, which I value greatly.

My volunteering journey began in high school, and it’s been a continuous part of my life ever since. I remember helping organize events to raise fundings for American Cancer Society, March of Dime, and more. I also participated in charity dance events and even took a trip to Ningxia, China, where I taught impoverished children about personal hygiene. Now, I volunteer my time at local cultural community events and mentoring college students.

Volunteering has been my way of expressing gratitude for the opportunities I’ve received by paying it forward to others. That is why I volunteer and donate to charities on my birthday, hoping to inspire others to do the same.

What motivated you to volunteer with STEM Advantage? 

STEM Advantage’s mission to support women and underserved communities in pursuing STEM careers resonated with me. As a recent student, I understand firsthand the struggles people from non-traditional backgrounds face, especially in STEM, where challenges like financial constraints and breaking into the field are particularly tough. I saw I could contribute by leveraging my experiences and skills to drive solutions for STEM Advantage’s data visualization needs to convey the disparities various groups face in STEM education, ultimately aiming to secure more funding and assist more students.

What was STEM Advantage’s business challenge? 

STEM Advantage serves ethnic minorities, female, and first-generation students at eight California State University (CSU) campuses. STEM Advantage focuses on sharing their impact stories with funders and corporations to continue to grow and scale their work. STEM Advantage used publicly available CSU Tableau dashboard’s data to create graphs to illustrate the larger drop-off rates for ethnic minorities, female, and first-generation students pursuing careers in STEM compared to other demographics. However, that resource stopped collecting data past 2022 and CSU’s website has existing data visualizations that limits the potential for data analysis. The volunteer team helped to find CSU’s updated data, extract the data, create visualizations for key metrics, and share our process for STEM Advantage to replicate the steps for their future data visualization needs.

What solutions did your team come up with?

The volunteer team, which comprised myself and other NVIDIA employee volunteers, discovered online resources, enabling them to access historical and present-day data. We also demonstrated methods to clean and organize the data for visualization, utilizing common tools like Google Sheets and Excel and more technical approaches like Python for complex extractions and cleaning.

We expanded their data sources beyond CSU’s website, helping collect additional data points to enrich their storytelling, emphasizing the importance of supporting STEM students from diverse backgrounds.

In addition to data-driven solutions, we recommended incorporating testimonials and real-life examples to supplement funding requests. By showcasing how STEM Advantage had positively impacted students’ lives, we aimed to provide sponsors with a more compelling reason to support the organization beyond data analysis.

What skills did you leverage to help STEM Advantage, and did you tap into new skills or talents? 

Our team leveraged their skills to develop and present the solutions, particularly in data visualization and data analysis. It was both challenging and humbling to lead a group of experienced individuals who had been in their careers for much longer than I have. As the team lead, my role involved organization, leadership, and stakeholder management. I ensured that STEM Advantage’s points of contact were aligned with our solutions and that we met their requirements. One new skill I developed during this project was team building when leading more experienced individuals and when leading folks I’ve never met before. I focused on facilitating collaboration while allowing each member to work independently. I received great support from my volunteer team, and their positive feedback at the end of the project was truly gratifying.

What was your favorite part of this event? What stuck with you after this experience?

I enjoyed the opportunity to learn from my volunteer teammates. Each member brought unique talents and expertise, and I gained valuable insights into their problem-solving approaches and resourcefulness.

What stuck with me the most was understanding the impact of STEM Advantage’s mission. I was surprised to learn that the average graduation time for CSU students is six years, and it was eye-opening to realize that this extended timeframe is often due to students balancing family responsibilities and primary financial contributors to their household. This realization highlighted the resilience and determination of these students and underscored the importance of STEM Advantage’s mission. It challenged my preconceived beliefs and emphasized the significance of supporting underserved communities in education. Overall, this volunteer experience was incredibly enlightening and impactful.

Research from the Oxford Wellbeing Research Centre  suggests that volunteering helps wellbeing. Does giving back help your mental health? 

Volunteering helps me break away from work and life stress by focusing my time and attention on something bigger than myself. It fosters a sense of connection and belonging, whether to the mission itself or the act of volunteering. This sense of purpose and connection significantly contributes to my wellbeing by bringing me joy, purpose, and gratitude. The simplicity of lending a helping hand for a greater cause is significant for me. It’s strange to say, but engaging in volunteer work makes me feel good about myself.

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About Common Impact 

Common Impact is a national nonprofit that fosters meaningful partnerships between purpose-driven Fortune 500 companies and nonprofits worldwide to propel social good. Since 2000, Common Impact has generated over 205,000 hours of skills-based volunteering and $40 million in resources. Common Impact is dedicated to helping nonprofits expand their capacity, improve efficiency, and deliver on their mission with customized and impactful projects through corporate partnerships. Learn more about Common Impact’s services, impact, and clients.

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