By Megan Sayles
AFRO Business Writer
Report for America Corps Member
The Science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) industry is ever growing, with the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicting that the jobs in the field will grow more than two times faster than the total for all other jobs. But, it’s difficult to imagine yourself in a job where those that have come before look nothing like you.
STEMcx, the education arm of Baltimore nonprofit Transforming Lives Community Development Corporation, serves underrepresented minority communities by providing them with free STEM resources and opportunities. More importantly, the organization exposes African American and other minority students to STEM professionals that look like them.
“Every single time that we do a presentation from an African American who has achieved something in the area we hear the same thing. What they say is ‘when I was growing up, I never saw anybody Black doing [this,]’” said Sandy Adams, chair of STEMcx.
STEMcx began as a free conference and expo hosted at New Psalmist Baptist Church for students, parents and teachers to participate in STEM-focused workshops and computer labs. Between 200 and 300 Baltimore-area youth learned about topics ranging from the physics of football to the chemistry of Covergirl makeup. The organization’s programming has now expanded to include math and science tutoring, book clubs, and summer camps.
This summer, STEMcx led three virtual camps for Baltimore youth. The organization offered a coding and veterinary camp, as well as partnered with the Baltimore City Police Department to host a forensics camp.
Its STEM reading club provided books to about 130 young people for free thanks to donations from Amazon. For most of the book discussions, STEMcx was able to have the authors lead the discussions virtually. The organization also pairs a STEM activity that relates to each novel.
Adams said it is especially important to expose African American students to STEM because the field pays well, and the number of African Americans in the industry is diminishing. Adams previously worked at the National Academy of Sciences, and she and her husband own a software engineering company.
From these experiences, she said the number of African Americans who are prepared and interested in STEM jobs is minute. “That’s why this has sort of been a labor of love for me to do what I can to introduce STEM to kids and to show them that it’s not something that’s too awfully hard,” said Adams.
Through a partnership with cybersecurity company BlueVoyant, STEMcx presented Baltimore area high school students with an opportunity for a paid summer internship. Eight students were chosen out of the 60 who applied, and they worked with the company’s engineers virtually for eight weeks.
On Aug. 23, the eight participants received $1500 stipends from BlueVoyant, and they each showcased their coding projects from the internship. A panel of judges, which included Maryland State Senator Jill Carter, evaluated the projects and chose a grand prize winner who will receive a laptop with accessories.
“BlueVoyant has been an unbelievable partner from the start. Our contact Eric Parker, director of risk operations at BlueVoyant, constantly talks about the company’s commitment to bringing more people from underrepresented communities into STEM,” said Adams. “We couldn’t be happier that they chose to partner with STEMcx.”
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