The Gateway to Innovation conference, launched 11 years ago by a group of IT leaders living and working around St. Louis, only had a few hundred attendees when it initially debuted. Now, a decade later, the conference regularly attracts up to 1,500 IT professionals and has, over the span of it existence, raised over a million dollars for local STEM initiatives.
Joseph Rottman is a professor of information systems at University of Missouri-Saint Louis and has been chair of the scholarship committee for the Gateway to Innovation conference since 2012. He’s responsible for taking funds raised by the conference and facilitating a $2,000 scholarship that’s given to five college students each year. To date, Rottman said, the scholarship has been awarded to over 60 students. “$2,000 to some people might not seem like a lot of money,” he explained. “ But to a student working either full or part time, let’s say at $8 an hour, that’s saving about 300 hours of their time when you calculate their after-tax take home pay. That’s a huge chunk of time and resources SIM is freeing up for these students.”
In addition to the scholarships, the St. Louis SIM chapter has distributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to local nonprofits that support STEM projects. These include Innovate St. Louis, IT Entrepreneur Network, T-REX (a startup incubator), and Hawthorn Leadership School for Girls, a charter school with a STEM emphasis.
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So why has the Gateway to Innovation conference been so successful? “It’s quality content that drives attendance,” said Rottman. “Attendees talk to people and share their experience, and that leads to those people signing up the next year. And then the sponsors see attendance is growing, and then they become more interested. And then when we get more sponsors, which allows us to pay for and increase the content for the conference even more. It’s a virtuous cycle.”
While the St. Louis SIM chapter is relatively small, its success hasn’t gone unnoticed within the rest of SIM. At the 2016 SIMposium conference, the chapter won STEM Innovation Award, which is given to a “chapter who sponsors a significant community outreach initiative highlighting technology innovation and STEM career opportunities.”
“SIM’s ST Louis chapter embodies the type of Chapter Outreach that warranted the inaugural Chapter Innovation award,” said Nanci Schimizzi, who leads SIM’s national STEM initiatives. “While we have significant accomplishments at the local level by many of our chapters around the country, the St Louis Chapter knocked it out of the ball park with their Gateways to Innovation conference. They were truly deserving and are a role model on how technology can make an impact.”