One of my favorite perks as an Autodesker is that we’re given 48 hours per year to volunteer on company time with nonprofits of our choice. In fact, in FY23 alone, Autodesk employees contributed 23,000+ volunteer hours, including 3,680 hours of pro bono consultation.

Through my role in the Customer Success Organization, I was recently presented with the opportunity to spend time with students as part of Autodesk’s support of DreamWakers.

DreamWakers works to close the opportunity gap for students in under-resourced schools by virtually connecting them with professionals from diverse backgrounds, identities, and perspectives beyond their city limits. Through interactive video conversations, or “flashchats,” classrooms across the U.S. meet dynamic role models in a wide array of professional sectors, inspiring the next generation of leaders to envision and prepare for their own future.

Importantly, they partner with 4th to 12th grade classrooms in schools where at least 50% of the student body is eligible for free or reduced-price lunch.

Map infographic of DreamWaker students

Snapshot of the students Autodeskers have met through flashchats coordinated by DreamWakers. Image courtesy DreamWakers.

Jillian Scott, Executive Director from DreamWakers, shared more about the students they reach. “By the age of six, students from low-income households spend 1,300 fewer hours outside of their home compared to their affluent peers. This lack of exposure to extracurricular learning can manifest into profound educational and professional consequences for students from low-income households. When youth have positive adult role models, they are more likely to have academic confidence, be engaged in school, and show an interest in learning.”

Through these efforts, DreamWakers helps students see what they can be.

Since October 2020, DreamWakers has worked with Autodesk volunteers to host 106 flashchats, reaching 2,759 students in under-resourced schools in 20 states and Washington DC. More than 50 Autodeskers have spent 4,750+ minutes in career conversations with students. And through these conversations, 81% of students said they were exposed to a new career.

Hear some of the perspective Autodesk’s Sheryl Walton shared during a flashchat

Sheryl Walton, senior manager, global technology operations, is one of Autodesk’s most prolific volunteers, hosting 14 flashchats since 2021. She recently discussed her experience with DreamWakers, noting “I like to share my journey from grade school to becoming an adult, while exposing the importance of equality and being a fearless disruptor. I encourage them to believe in themselves and their ideas, while making an impact in their lives and communities. It’s amazing how sharing my personal and professional journeys for less than an hour can change the trajectory of someone else’s life.”

After learning more about this wonderful program, I knew I wanted to join this effort.

Helping kids, especially those who are not exposed to the same resources as other students, is extremely important to me. I’m so grateful to sit in front of faces that look like mine and show them what opportunities are available. I want to help these students know there is a career path for them in STEM.

I recently connected with the students from Ms. O’Brien’s 12th grade career exploration class, focused on software engineering, at Cambria Heights Academy in NYC. There were 22 students in the class and only three had ever met a professional with a job like mine.

I thoroughly enjoyed my flashchat with Ms. O’Brien’s career exploration class. Images courtesy DreamWakers.

The students were incredibly engaged and came prepared with questions. They asked about how I got started on my career and what I studied in school. My advice was to explore all options and keep an open mind when looking into jobs and even college.

I always want students to understand that in these current times, what works for some doesn’t always work for others. I want to make sure they keep an open mind when thinking about next steps after high school.

Head to AfroTech to learn more about RaShonda and the Autodesk Black Network

Following each flashchat, the educators also share feedback. Ms. Pleskonko, from Staunton High School in Virginia, followed up after Autodesk’s Tonya Custis, director, AI research, met her with class. She said, “I wanted my kids to learn about STEM careers, and I think it was even more interesting that [Tonya] incorporated so many diverse backgrounds into her career: computer science, linguistics, music, science, and math. My students requested for her to visit again next year. It was so good!”

Fellow Autodesker Tim Childs, strategic territory sales representative, also received great feedback about his flashchat. During his session, they talked about a shared love for the same music. I feel that connecting with the students in a real way goes far for them; he helps them see that we, too, enjoy the same stuff as them, and they can become the same professionals we are.

The 45 minutes I spent with these students was more meaningful than I can express. I’m thankful that my team in the Customer Success Organization, and Autodesk’s Research and Finance teams, will continue to partner with DreamWakers. Together, we’re doing our part to help close the opportunity gap for the next generation.