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Sharing the dream | BNAN-SC takes Boeing South Carolina’s DreamLearners program across the enterprise to inspire Native American youth

Native American tribal students across the country now have a better understanding of Boeing and the aerospace industry, thanks to an outreach initiative led by the South Carolina chapter of the Boeing Native American Network (BNAN), one of Boeing’s employee-led business resource groups.

“When I was growing up in Oklahoma, there wasn’t any kind of outreach from companies that I saw. When I began working at Boeing South Carolina, I thought, ‘wouldn’t it be great if they had something like the DreamLearners program in my hometown’,” said Nalena Kennett, Transportation, Warehouse and Logistics project manager, and co-chair of BNAN, South Carolina.

Students from Woodlands Middle and High Schools participate in a virtual DreamLearners STEM activity led by BNAN-SC members.

The DreamLearners program, started in 2012, brings local students onsite to learn about the company’s presence in the state as well as advanced manufacturing. As part of the STEM-based program, students can participate in hands-on group activities, discover different careers at Boeing and learn about the benefits of a STEM-focused education. 

More than 950,000 students and adults have participated in the program – many of them in South Carolina. Dreamlearners went virtual in 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, enabling the program to reach classrooms and communities beyond the Palmetto State. 

“Once DreamLearners was developed into a virtual program, I thought it would be cool to partner with our tribal communities and with schools that the tribal children attend,” Kennett said.  

Part of BNAN’s mission is to serve the Native American youth. With the help of Frank Hatten, the Boeing education relations specialist who developed and leads DreamLearners, Kennett hosted virtual DreamLearners sessions for tribal communities across the U.S. 

Kennett hosted several sessions for tribal schools in her hometown in Oklahoma and surrounding areas, also involving teammates from Boeing’s Oklahoma City site. To date, approximately 1,600 students and community members across six states have participated.  

“The kids are excited. They enjoy taking part in the STEM activity. It’s a break from their normal everyday grind,” Kennett said. 

In addition to participating in the virtual DreamLearners programs, Boeing has also hosted STEM-based activities as part of the American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES) national conference, and locally during the Edisto Natchez Kusso Tribe powwows. 

“I have seen a lot of the kids; their eyes just pop open like, ‘Oh, I can do this?’ They just love the STEM events,” said Stephen West, a Boeing enterprise technical workplace coach, and BNAN operation lead, who has hosted DreamLearners at the AISES conference for the past six years.

The BRGs are volunteer, employee-driven groups focusing on a particular part of someone’s identity, such as ethnicity, race, age, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability or veteran status, though every group is open to all. Including BNAN, Boeing has nine BRGs in nine countries.

“If you truly want to be diverse then you have to recruit from diverse areas. Intelligence is there among all cultures, but the tools are needed to help them use it,” Kennett said. 

Over the past three years, Boeing has invested more than $2.6 million in organizations supporting Native Americans and other Indigenous communities in the U.S. – bringing the company’s global support for Indigenous populations over the same time period to $3.3 million.