Q&A with Beth Dolce and Luis Miles

from Blue Planet, A Division of Ciena Corporation

Beth Dolce
Vice President
Finance and Business Operations
Blue Planet, A Division of Ciena

Luis Miles
Senior Leader
Internal Communications
Blue Planet, A Division of Ciena

How and why did Blue Planet, a division of Ciena, get involved with Building STEPS?

Beth: I met the Building STEPS CEO, Debra Hettleman, several years ago through the Leadership Baltimore County program. We had invited Debra to talk to the class about the importance of educating the underserved in Baltimore, and it was a great presentation. Following that first meeting, I stayed in touch with Debra and Building Steps and began volunteering and donating to the organization every so often. And I always kept looking for the right opportunity to get Ciena more engaged with Building Steps – because your focus on educating students on STEM-related careers aligns very well with our mission around digital inclusion and expanding opportunities through more connectivity and technology. Then in 2020, the opportunity to create a career shadow event surfaced. I partnered with Women@Ciena- one of our affinity groups- and we invited Building Steps students to visit our Hanover facilities for a day. That was a wonderful opportunity to meet Building STEPS students and give them advice and guidance on what it means to work for a global corporation. And now we are seeking even more ways to broaden our partnership.

What surprised you most about Building STEPS?

Beth: Nearly 80% of Building STEPS students earn a college degree – and almost all Building STEPS students are the first in their family to earn a college degree. and many are the first even to graduate from high school. That tells us that this organization is making an incredible impact.

What methods do you use to promote volunteerism within your company?

Luis: Volunteerism is truly ingrained in our company culture, and we use a diverse promotional approach to achieve the greatest volunteerism impact. What started several years ago with an “Employee Day of Service” and a “Charitable Match” for donations has now evolved into Ciena Cares, a world-class, globally-focused program that supports our employees’ passion to give back in a variety of ways. We offer flexible volunteer time off, a company match for donations, and rewards for volunteering which can be donated to thousands of different causes via our online platform.

We regularly advertise opportunities for volunteering via traditional channels, which include internal e-mail messages and virtual message boards, our intranet site, weekly newsletters, quarterly Town Hall meetings, and office signage to reach as many people as possible. We also recognize our top volunteers through a virtual “volunteer hall of fame” and organize games, contests, and fun events that bring people together (both in person and virtually) to share volunteer projects. We also encourage grassroots volunteerism, where divisions or departments come up with their own goals, causes and initiatives to support. But perhaps our boldest approach yet has been to establish volunteerism as a corporate-wide objective, which our CEO and executive team have sponsored, and which is now tied to our annual performance goals. We work very hard, and are very busy, but we always find time to improve the communities in which we live and work. That is who we are.

What trends do you see in corporate volunteerism?

Luis: For obvious reasons, we see companies advancing more virtual volunteerism to advance their objectives, as opposed to the traditional in-person volunteerism of years past. But many companies still have the perception that virtual volunteering is not as impactful or effective, and that couldn’t be further from the truth. Even in a post-COVID world, we will continue to emphasize all the ways in which employees can make a difference remotely, working and supporting important causes from the safety of their homes.

Another trend is the increased importance of volunteerism in support of Digital Inclusion initiatives. At Ciena, we are dedicated to enabling greater connectivity to help improve the experiences and lives of people around the world. We know that greater digital connection can expand opportunities for more people – especially for students and those who have historically been underserved. Yet a digital divide persists, and COVID-19 has sharpened the focus on this inequality and its implications. It’s made clear to everyone how essential connectivity, technology and digital skills are for learning. This is precisely what inspired Ciena’s Digital Inclusion initiative, which aims to expand access to opportunities for underserved students in our communities around the world. This program includes a $10 million commitment over the next five years to increase access to digital connection, provide technology and computing devices, and promote digital literacy and skills for 100,000 underserved students in our communities. We hope this will create exponential benefits, leading to a more inclusive economy and equitable world for us all. As you can tell, our support of Building Steps is perfectly aligned to our Digital Inclusion objectives.

Tell us about a Building STEPS volunteer experience that was the most memorable for your company/employees and why?

Our most memorable event was the career shadow day with Building Step, as I mentioned in my earlier response. I remember we toured the students through our Ciena labs and showed them our new workspaces and talked about careers in IT, Finance, Engineering, and HR. It was so rewarding for our employees, and the students were extremely engaged and asked lots of questions. They also had big ambitions for their own careers, which was amazing to hear!

Building STEPS offers many opportunities for volunteers to make an impact on a Baltimore City student’s life.