STEM study and research for school-aged children is becoming more important each day. Programs focusing on science, technology, engineering and math are implemented in schools with the hope that children will gain an interest at a young age, placing them on a path of possible study and potential employment within those disciplines later on in life. While many kids have dreams of becoming actors, musicians and athletes, there’s still a chance to break into those industries by using STEM.

Verizon Innovative Learning’s latest initiative focuses on the importance of STEM access for school-kids in our ever-changing technological world.

“With about 9 million available STEM jobs – and over 4 million available jobs in science and technology alone – our youth need access to education and resources that will prepare them for success in tomorrow’s high-tech world,” they write on their website. The tech company has committed $200 million to hands-on learning, free access and tech, so that students from all over the country will be able to reap the benefits of STEM courses.

Former New York Giant Victor Cruz is no stranger himself to STEM study, as he highlights its importance as part of his Victor Cruz Foundation. He partnered with Verizon to speak to students in his home state of New Jersey about the importance of STEM.

Along with NBA player Karl-Anthony Towns of the Minnesota Timberwolves, Cruz surprised the students of Franklin Middle School in Minneapolis (a Title I school which provides a high number of students from low-income families with an education) with Verizon’s new Explorer Lab, an immersive experience in which the students get the chance to become scientists with hands-on learning equipment. The duo also spoke to the underserved middle school students about how they can break into the sports industry, not through athletic ability, but with tech skills.

VIBE caught up with Cruz to discuss his interest and personal experiences with STEM, and the endless job possibilities in the sports industry STEM students could attain. A Super Bowl champion himself (he and the Big Blue defeated the Pats in Super Bowl XLVI), we also discussed his picks for the big game on Sunday (Feb. 4).

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What drew you to the message and the motive of Verizon Innovative Learning?
Victor Cruz: What drew me to the message was that I have my own foundation that’s geared towards STEM programming, and I just felt like it was the perfect partnership within both of us, because both of us have such an affinity to help children learn more about STEM programming. Verizon put together this amazing “Verizon Mobile Learning Lab” for kids to learn about STEM and to learn how much of a difference it’s gonna make in the world. Not only did they do that, they put $200 million into it, into this entire initiative, to help kids learn more about STEM programming -not just in their specific field- but in everything, science, technology, engineering, and math.

What’s been your personal relationship with STEM that makes it something you wanted to implement in your foundation?
Well, I visited the White House Science Fair years ago and I saw these kids, these young children, building all these things and going through all of these different inventions, things that they’ve made, things that they’re into. I was like, ‘wow, this is amazing. I want to come here one day and have kids from my hometown be here with their invention and things that they’ve done.’ So, that just sparked an interest in me to go into it and start it with the Boys and Girls Club of Paterson, New Jersey and growing within that and, just being super inspired by that. It’s going great so far.

Shout out to Jersey, by the way.

What are some of the ways that those who understand STEM or studied STEM would be able to find employment in the sports world, if they’re not athletically inclined?
So, you think about things like an athletic trainer or nowadays, there's someone pretty much on every team at this point, that uses information technology. At least with the Giants, we wore these heart-rate monitors and used these different ways to collect information. Obviously as technology grows, more and more information is going to be found about athletes, like how they move and hydration.

So all of these different jobs, like being a trainer, like a statistician, or being someone that’s involved in the heart-rate monitor and that technology space, those are all things within the football, sports world that are fairly new, and are looking to employ young people to provide this type of information. So, there’s so many different ways to be involved in a professional sports organization, other than being a professional football player, or a basketball player, or being the athlete.

What are some of the tools and equipment in the lab that was just implemented in the school, that can help students become the best they can be, in terms of STEM?
I heard that now, I don’t know if this is just a local thing I heard, in New Jersey or across America, but I heard every school now has to have a technology course or a computer-science course that’s mandatory, and not something that’s ‘oh, take it if you want to,’ or whatever the case may be. I heard it’s mandatory, so that’s step one.

Then, through my foundation, I have kids be hands-on, and build robotics, and build things with their hands, just so they understand science can be fun, these things can be fun. It’s not just sitting down, opening up a science book and having a teacher regurgitate things that you gotta memorize. Having these kids learn these things hands-on, build it with their hands, and understand it, I think that’s where you create a game changer.

Obviously, there’s a big event coming up at the end of the weekend. Who are you rooting for in the Super Bowl and why?
Man, I'm just praying no one can win because [laughs] I don't like either team! But, I think if I had to choose a team, I think that every city, and every team, and every place deserves at least one championship, and they deserve to know what that feeling is like. So, I would take it that Philadelphia [Eagles], after all these years of not winning, I think they actually deserve one. So, if I had to root for a team, secretly, it would be Philadelphia.

You have experience in the Super Bowl as well. What’s it like to win something like that?
So, I have a six-year-old daughter, and it’s right below the birth of her, seeing her being born, it’s right below that. So, if that puts it in context, I think it does. But, it’s an amazing feeling. You grow up playing a game your whole life, not only playing it but watching the Super Bowl each and every year as a kid, and then as a young adult in high school and in college. Then you get your chance to be in it and you're like, ‘wow, I’m in this game, and I’m playing in it. They’re gonna play every year, over and over, for the rest of my life. This is an unbelievable experience.’ And, then to win it, it just takes it to a whole new level, you know? So, it’s definitely high up there on the list.

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