Getting Students Excited About STEM (and MITRE), with Willie Hill


Willie Hill (Left), Cameron Boozarjomehri (Right) Photo: Cameron Boozarjomehri

Welcome to the latest installment of the Knowledge-Driven Podcast. In this series, Software Systems Engineer Cameron Boozarjomehri interviews technical leaders at MITRE who have made knowledge sharing and collaboration an integral part of their practice. 

The STEM field has been described as the great equalizer, a field that celebrates and elevates those who contribute to it. Still, many students, especially students of color, find it intimidating and hard to approach. Fortunately, individuals like Willie Hill are dedicating their time and talents to show students of all backgrounds that STEM is fun and worth getting excited about. Join in as we learn how Willie, and MITRE, are stepping up to prepare students for careers in STEM.

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Podcast Transcript
Cameron: 00:15 Hello, everyone, and welcome to MITRE’s Knowledge-Driven Podcast, a show where I, your host, Cameron Boozarjomehri, have the great fortune of interviewing brilliant minds across MITRE. Today I’m joined by business process lead, Willie Hill. Willie, would you like to introduce yourself?
Willie: 00:29 Good day everyone. My name is Willie Mack Hill, Jr. It’s my full name. I joined MITRE in May of 2018. I work in T872 in the Business Process Innovation Tech Center. It’s a pleasure to join you guys today. Thank you, Cam.
Cameron: 00:44 Thanks, Willie. I wanted to bring you on because in addition to your excellent work at MITRE, you do a lot of outreach, and let’s say MITRE’s not necessarily your first job. But since you’ve come here, you’ve done a lot to build the MITRE brand for us, going out and talking to, really, students of all ages, if I recall, grade school through college and getting them excited about not just MITRE, but also about STEM in general.
Willie: 01:09 Yes. It’s a pleasure, and I feel like it’s also my responsibility to let students know about these opportunities that they may not know exist. I’ve been on this path for a really long time and it’s great to be part of organization that values it, that encourages it, and gives you a charge code to do it as well. So all of this support gives me even more fuel to go out there and just spread information about available opportunities in STEM on the collegiate side, the professional side, and MITRE gives me that opportunity to do so.
Cameron: 01:47 That’s really great to hear. I think that leads right into the first thing I’d like to talk to you about, which is how’d you get started at MITRE? What brought you to this company and got you in this mindset?
Willie: 01:58 Well, I’ve worked for MITRE. About five years ago I moved to the Washington, DC, area from Texas back in 2013. In the 2014/2015 timeframe, I was on a project where MITRE was one of the partner organizations. The gentleman that worked at MITRE, he would always tell me, “Oh, MITRE is a great company to work for. If you ever consider another company later in your career, I definitely would suggest looking at it.” But everyone tells you that. Oh yeah, everybody says their company is great.
Willie: 02:31 However, a little bit more than two years ago, two and a half years ago, I was looking for a new job, new company, new role, and one of my great friends, Shelton Liddell, who I know through NSBE [National Society of Black Engineers]; we’ll talk about NSBE later, he just joined MITRE and he was like, “Hey man, MITRE is a great company.” He did talk a lot about the opportunities for civic work, and I just thought that was amazing.
Willie: 02:56 So I decided to go to the Black Engineer of the Year Awards Conference. They have an outstanding free career fair for individuals who are practicing engineering, and MITRE was there. Through that experience, I was able to get an interview. I met my future department head and my future division head and Ann-Marie France and Ms. Elaine Ward. I was granted an interview, and May, 2019, I was hired full time.
Cameron: 03:22 That’s really great to hear. But as I understand it, in that process, you’ve come to really appreciate the importance of outreach, the importance of building up your ability not to just be part of a place but to promote that place, to get more people of your caliber—really smart, really capable engineers, business people, scientists—excited about a place. What was that like? What was the moment you tipped from I’m working for this company to I want to be an advocate and go out and get students excited for not just MITRE, but STEM in general?
Willie: 03:56 A lot of companies talk the talk that, hey, they want their individuals out there promoting their company, that they want individuals out in the community working for their company, spreading the brand. But MITRE actually walks it. Like I said, give the ability to have 40 [hours] of civic duty. That’s a big deal.
Willie: 04:17 There’s multiple initiatives out there through MERG {Multicultural Employee Resource Group], through other organizations on the MITRE campus that allow individuals to really get out there and do some of the dirty work. Because civic work, whether you’re working on a highway or you’re volunteering at a school, or you’re helping out with an engineering fair—these things take time and work and effort—and time. I’m going to keep saying that. The fact that MITRE’s like, “Hey, if there’s something out there in the community that can help out your community, here’s a process.” A real process, this is a process to get this work approved so you can gain access to a charge code.
Willie: 04:58 I’ve been part of organizations and companies where they say they’re going to do it, but then it turns into, “Well we’ll go ahead and do it, and we’ll see what happens.” But there’s no real process. MITRE actually has a process that’s easy to follow, easy to understand. I’m like, wow, I enjoy being a part of company that talks it and walks it.
Willie: 05:18 This is something I can actually tell students. When I talk to students, I can say, “Well, my company gives me 40 hours to do stuff like this.” I see the look in the student’s eyes like, “Wow, that’s crazy. Are you getting paid for this?” “Yeah, I’m actually getting paid.” I’d be doing this if I wasn’t getting paid, but it does help to know that your travel, your parking, all that stuff’s going to be reimbursed because it just makes it a little bit easier on the volunteer when those things are happening.
Willie: 05:45 So very soon after I understood how civic time works, maybe months in, I was already looking for opportunities where I could really hopefully impact the MITRE environment. So I joined in 2018, by fall, I was already trying to figure out what are the best ways we can help and really influence the community.
Willie: 06:06 I’m a member of the National Society of Black Engineers [NSBE] nationally, and I’m also a member of the local NSBE DC chapter. So, like I told you, my friend Shelton is also a member of that organization. So are several older individuals that walk around MITRE campus, and NSBE was looking for an opportunity to hold pretty much a mini-conference for students between that fourth grade to eighth/ninth grade, individual students that were trying to figure out what they want to be in life and wanted a little bit of guidance. So we had this idea to have this Kids Love STEM Fair on MITRE campus.
Willie: 06:45 So, in 2019, that’s what we did. It was over 150 visitors, ended up being more like 60, 65 children showed up on this campus. They were able to rotate around four different engineering, scientific experiences. The great people at the ACME Labs, they actually had a rotation, which was really fun, talking about design thinking and those types of things.
Willie: 07:11 We had volunteers. One volunteer group, they did a hot air balloon where students were going to make a hot air balloon. One of the other rotations was like an engineering, science scavenger hunt. Then one of the rotations allowed the participants to construct a solution for environmental pollution.
Willie: 07:32 It was great. The students had a ball. The parents had a ball. We gave the students breakfast. We gave the students lunch. While the students, while the kids were trickling around their rotations, the parents are able to stay back in one of the big auditoriums and they were able to talk to individuals like myself and ask questions like, “How do I get my student involved in STEM? How do I get them excited? What are the resources for scholarships?” It was just an incredible day, an incredible, incredible day.
Willie: 08:02 Oh, did I mention, we also had, of course, a section where the students and parents were able to learn more about MITRE. So we, of course, showed them one of our incredible MITRE videos. We had representatives from MITRE.
Cameron: 08:15 This is where I want to jump in, because what is NSBE? Can you elaborate?
Willie: 08:19 Okay. Yeah, yeah, yeah. So NSBE, the National Society of Black Engineers, is an international organization that focuses on getting minorities involved in STEM collegiately, professionally, and then also getting the memberships to impact the community, their local state and national communities.
Willie: 08:41 So most people join NSBE in college. There’s three levels of chapter participation. Most of us joined in college to collegiate chapters. I joined at University of Florida. Then there’s also alumni, which you now call professional chapters. So I’m now a member of the NSBE DC Professional Chapter.
Willie: 09:01 So these chapters usually host individuals that have graduated from their college experience, and then there are NSBE Junior Chapters. NSBE Junior Chapters are chapters for kids, the pre-college kids. So high school, middle school, elementary schools. A lot of times the NSBE Junior Chapters are mentored by either a college chapter or a professional chapter, and we do incredible things. We give out scholarships. Each chapter has its own thing, where we focus on everything from professional development to college and pre-college outreach. Of course, it’s a social aspect. We have fun, education, all those types of things.
Cameron: 09:44 So to bring it back to Kids Love STEM, this partnership between NSBE and MITRE. On the one hand I think it makes sense for NSBE to want this. But I was very curious to see that MITRE an organization that honestly is hiring … I know we have some high school interns, but for the most part we have mostly students who are actually college graduates. So seeing MITRE invest the time to partner with NSBE and also want to foster this interest at such a young age, like you said, fourth through eighth grade, what do you think brought about that motivation?
Willie: 10:18 Yeah, so MITRE’s credo is Engineering Solutions for a Safer World. Safety is not limited to physical safety. It’s financial safety. It’s social safety. It’s educational safety. I think when this was brought to MITRE decision maker’s attention, the reaction was: we’re going to be a part of an event that is going to give these 10-year-olds, 11-year-olds, 15-year-olds, the confidence and the information needed to jumpstart their transition on how they can make their individual communities, their families, safer, better. That is something that MITRE sees the value in.
Willie: 10:57 To be there that weekend, that Saturday, and to see the light bulbs going off, to see the twinkles in these students’ eyes, kids who had no idea what an aeronautical engineer was or aerospace engineer. But they’re making their own hot air balloons, and they’re going through the engineering process. You see these students saying, “Let’s use this material because I think it’s going to be heavier. No, let’s take off from this angle.” It was amazing to watch, to jump into the environmental rotation and to see these students come up with solutions on how to make their communities more environmental friendly. These are 10-year-olds, these are 11-year-olds talking about water treatment methods—talking about how to decrease pollution of automobile traffic. It was in everything.
Cameron: 11:48 If I can just jump in, this is no small part because of you. The point here isn’t just that you’re helping get kids excited in STEM, but they see you. They see Willie, and they’re like, this is what I can aspire to be. It doesn’t really matter where you come from. You can go into the field of STEM and work hard and become like you…
Willie: 12:08 Yes.
Cameron: 12:08 …and like the other members of NSBE and succeed and grow, and this is just true in general. STEM tries to be an equalizer so that other people can come in and learn and grow and contribute.
Willie: 12:21 Yeah, exactly. It wasn’t just NSBE members. We had multiple, multiple, dozens of MITRE volunteers that had nothing to do with NSBE that volunteered that day. That made a difference, too, to see that this isn’t just a NSBE event. These are individuals of multiple cultures and experiences dedicating their Saturday, because it was a whole day, 8:00 PM to approximately 4:00 PM, dedicating their time to giving me or giving my child an opportunity to learn more about these opportunities. So it was definitely an incredible tag team effort. There’s so many people to name, but definitely want to thank everyone at MITRE, NSBE. Definitely want to point out MITRE merged their great leadership for making that an incredible event.
Willie: 13:09 I’ll have to use 2019 as an example, because we weren’t able to do 2020 for obvious reasons. But we’re looking forward to just starting this back up as soon as we can. We look forward to the next edition of Kids Love STEM.
Cameron: 13:21 Something I’d like to discuss before we go is there’s clearly a range of people that you interact with when you’re trying to do your outreach. So I was wondering if you could speak a little to maybe how you change gears, maybe how you shift tone between when you’re talking to grade school students who are just really learning about this field and how much they can really enjoy it and doing it versus students who might be in the middle or end of their college degrees who are still trying to figure out what they might want to do after university.
Willie: 13:51 Yeah. So that’s a really good transition, because in 2019, through the leadership of my department head, Ms. Ann-Marie France, I’ve been part of an effort to strengthen our partnership with Morgan State University. Morgan State University is a Historically Black College and University right in the heart of Baltimore. They have an outstanding engineering program and we want to strengthen our relationship with them. We want to be an asset to them, and we of course would like more of their incredible student body and their engineering and business process, et cetera, et cetera, graduates to consider applying for jobs here so we can get more of the incredible Morgan State family employed and involved in MITRE here.
Willie: 14:39 So it’s a different strategy, but not as different as you would think. At Morgan State, we’ve taken this route of teaching courses. So we’ve taught courses on system engineering. We’ve taught classes on resume building. We’ve taught classes on design thinking, and with students that are in their college years, they’re a little bit more interested in the super practicality. They want to know how what they’re learning right now is going to lead to interesting employment opportunities.
Willie: 15:14 So when you talk to college students, you have to go in there understanding that maybe 85, 95 percent of the students maybe have never heard of MITRE, and that’s whether I’m going to Morgan State or that’s whether I’m representing MITRE at the National NSBE Conference where you’re talking about the really dozens of thousands of people. We have an incredible career fair there, so individual who are looking for jobs and MITRE, we have a booth, or even when I’m just talking to local students in the area. Most students, most adults, but most students have never heard of MITRE.
Willie: 15:48 So you have to come in with a certain level of energy and explain that, “Hey, we’re working on incredible things. MITRE is a supportive company that allows for research, that allows for civic opportunity, and this is a place where we hope you would consider having an incredible career.”
Willie: 16:05 So we come in with the knowledge base when we’re teaching these classes. You sit back and watch the students go, “Wow, okay. They know what they’re talking about. But they’re still here on a Wednesday at noon. Wow, they’re here because they’re interested in us.”
Willie: 16:19 I’m very straightforward with the college students. I ask them to really ask what are their priorities, and I tell them that you want to join an organization that’s going to allow you to follow through those priorities. I’m also very hard on them on their performance. I explain to them that there is no turning back to yesterday, that you can only live in the present and prepare for the future, and they appreciate that.
Willie: 16:45 I’m friendly. I’m making jokes. I do my best to be relatable, but also I tell them I have a responsibility to be real with them as well, and they appreciate that. I think for the other MITRE volunteers, I think we share that philosophy, that we’re going to come in, we’re going to have fun. We’re going to have pizza. But that’s not why we’re here.
Willie: 17:08 We’re here because we see the value in being there. We hope that individuals that we’re talking to can help add to the MITRE culture, and even if we… they don’t, if they choose to pursue opportunities elsewhere, we still are committed to a safer world. Employment leads directly to safety. These individuals are able to get great employment opportunities. They’re able to impact their families. They’re able to pass that lineage of education, of STEM, of opportunity throughout their families. That’s just basic logic. So we have a commitment to do that because we have the opportunity to do that, and it’s fun.
Willie: 17:48 I’ll be honest with you, I love talking to the students. It’s fun. It’s not work to me. It’s a bonus.
Cameron: 17:55 That’s really good to hear Willie, and I’m glad to hear that you’re making that kind of impact and seeing that kind of excitement from students of all levels. Can you let us know how we can get in touch or where we can find more resources about how students can attend these kinds of events, or is there a link to the MITRE NSBE partnership that you can mention or share?
Willie: 18:14 Yes. If you want to learn more about the NSBE DC Chapter, how you can be involved, the website is That’s If you want to learn more about NSBE from a national standpoint, the website is, and if you want to learn more about MERG, please go to and perform a search for MERG, which is M-E-R-G.
Cameron: 18:42 Well, that’s been all our time. Thank you to MITRE and the Knowledge-Driven Enterprise for making this conversation and this podcast possible, and most importantly, thank you to Willie for all your work trying to bring MITRE and STEM into the focus for a lot of young engineers and young scientists who hopefully we can build into the STEM workforce of tomorrow.
Willie: 19:02 Sounds great. Thank you for this opportunity.
Cameron: 19:05 Thank you, Willie.


Cameron Boozarjomehri is a Software Engineer and a member of MITRE’s Privacy Capability. His passion is exploring the applications and implications of emerging technologies and finding new ways to make those technologies accessible to the public.

© 2020 The MITRE Corporation. All rights reserved. Approved for public release.  Distribution unlimited. Case number 20-2042

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