Bowie-based Pursuing a Dream Corp. joins the increasing number of organizations and community groups pushing kids towards careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) as it begins to hold forums to get its message to the public.

Harry Washington, president and founder of the organization, says growing up he didn’t have anyone he could go to for help and doesn’t want today’s generation to share that experience. “In my own experience, I didn’t have the guidance,” said Washington. “I didn’t have guidance at school and I didn’t have guidance at home. It wasn’t like I didn’t see it; it just wasn’t there.”

The non-profit invites professionals working in STEM careers to speak with parents and students about how to prepare themselves for those pursuits. “We try to give parents and students guidance, as well as provide them with insight in terms of what they can expect when they go to college and what they can expect when they enter these career fields,” Washington said. “We don’t want to just give them a practical orientation; we want to give them people, which creates a more holistic perspective.”

One of the professionals speaking at a May 7 forum was Charles Buntin, Ph.D., a program manager with the Federal Aviation Administration. He says one of the things hindering youth entering college is communication and support. He said these things are important to staying motivated to pursue careers in fields that haven’t always been receptive to African Americans.

“It’s very important that youngsters communicate because not everybody is going to like you,” Buntin said. “It’s also very important that you connect with support groups. We started a support group when I was at Rutgers University because engineering students, particularly African Americans, weren’t doing so well. We studied together; we did all-nighters together and a lot of other things.”

Buntin, also the hardware development manager for the Human Research Facility in the International Space Station, says students should work to keep their negative experiences from consuming them. He says no matter what happens, they need to stay positive and push through obstacles. “Although discrimination may have some truth to it, don’t get so caught up in that because what that does is weigh on the inside of you,” he said. “Discouragement will paralyze you and stop you from doing anything.”

William Gordon, Ph.D., a professor in the Department of Biology at Howard University, agreed with Buntin at the forum. He said young people have to stay on their path regardless of what happens to them. “You really need to change what you see is best for you irrespective of what other people think of you,” Gordon said. “Your own passion has to drive you to do what you think you do best.”

Gordon says not to worry because there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. He says the demand is so high for minorities in STEM careers that if kids work hard, they’ll be able to write their own ticket. “There is a tremendous void in the STEM areas in this country to the point where we’re recruiting from foreign countries,” Gordon said. “So, a minority person with strong credentials in any of the same areas can have, not only a viable career, but can have a very prosperous career.”

George Barnette

Special to the AFRO