Key Education Transitions

Building a Path to STEM Careers for African-American Students

Dominique "Domy" Raymond, USA FundsBy Dominique “Domy” Raymond, Senior Program Director, USA Funds

African-Americans continue to be underrepresented in science, math, engineering and technology (STEM) occupations that offer some of the most rewarding — financially and professionally — career opportunities. For example, the most recent National Science Foundation report on Science and Engineering Indicators finds that Hispanics, blacks and Native Americans account for 26 percent of the U.S. population age 21 and older, but for only 10 percent of workers in science and engineering occupations and for 13 percent of the highest degree holders in science and engineering.

To address this issue, the National Urban League operates Project Ready STEM, an extension of its in-school, after-school and summer programs for middle and high school students. Project Ready STEM aims to encourage high school graduation, increase STEM-related coursework, and promote greater awareness and acceptance of career choices in science, technology, engineering and math. USA Funds® supports Project Ready STEM programs through Urban League affiliates in Chicago and Rochester, N.Y.

The Urban League of Rochester delivers a program for students in grades eight through 12. Participants recently took part in a project focused on community mapping and asset-based development, to envision a future community that is viable and sustainable. Students heard from two college and career panels, including professionals who work in STEM fields, to discuss preparing for college, leadership and exploring careers. Students also benefit from college tours. During a recent visit to a local community college, participants learned about program offerings in precision machinery and optics.

Along with National Urban League staff, I recently visited the Chicago Urban League (CUL) and two Project Ready STEM program schools, Benjamin E. Mays Academy and Mollison Elementary School. The CUL Project Ready STEM program serves students in the sixth through eighth grades, providing them support in high school preparation, financial literacy training, and health and wellness information, in addition to STEM education. The program aims to expose participants to at least two STEM professionals through workshops and field trips. Additional goals include having 85 percent of the participants maintain a grade of B or higher in the core subjects of math, reading and science, and, ultimately, having at least 15 percent of the students pursue STEM subjects at the postsecondary level. A STEM Summer Camp introduced students to electrical and environmental engineering, and during a field trip to an Abbott Laboratories molecular facility, they extracted DNA from strawberries.

Building a Path to STEM Careers for African American StudentsEqually important as the program itself are the caring, advocacy-driven adults who are at the heart of the Project Ready STEM program’s success on all levels. CUL understands that Project Ready STEM is part of a complementary suite of CUL programs that aim to help African-Americans in Chicago communities find jobs and educational opportunities. As champions of educational equality, economic development and social justice, CUL staff, including executive leadership and program directors, act as conduits, connecting Project Ready STEM participants and their families to other programs aimed at improving their lives.

Similarly, at the school site visits, I noticed that principals and a Project Ready STEM after-school adviser could seamlessly talk about students learning physics, hear a child crying in distance and ask “Who’s unhappy?” — and then quickly troubleshoot a student’s class and extracurricular scheduling issues.

Through support of programs like Project Ready STEM, we’re helping young people who may never have considered science, engineering, technology or math fields to discover their futures. And we’re encouraging them to complete the connection between their education and a fulfilling career.

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