Credit: Dr. Jim Gates
Credit: Dr. Jim Gates
Earlier this week, four high school seniors were selected by the Council of the Great City Schools to receive a $5,000 scholarship courtesy of ExxonMobil for perspective students in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math.
The organization focuses on the needs of students attending urban area schools. The organization is composed of 67 different urban school districts in the U.S. that serve as a network to solve common issues and exchange information and problem-solving methods.
On June 3, the 2015 ExxonMobil Bernard Harris Math and Science Scholarship were announced: Matthew Guillory from Robert A. Millikan High School in Long Beach, California, of the Unified School District; Sofia Kennedy from the Liberal Arts and Science Academy in Austin, Texas, of the Independent School District; Summer Kollie of Girard Academic Music Program from School District of Philadelphia; and Nicolas Pena from Western High School of Broward County, Florida, Public Schools
The scholarship was created in 2010 by the first Black astronaut to walk in space, Dr. Bernard Harris. His foundation partnered up with ExxonMobil to give students in low-income districts a chance to prosper.
According to the executive director of the Council of the Great City Schools, Michael Casserly, “these highly competitive scholarships provide an enormous opportunity for talented urban students to pursue STEM post-secondary studies and careers. The generous support of Dr. Harris and ExxonMobil contributes to the growth of these young men and women as they begin the next stage of their lives.”
After a long application process, Harris decides who will receive the scholarships.
For almost a decade, the number of science, technology, engineering and mathematics degrees awarded to Black males has not increased nationwide.
So Georgia Tech put together a national panel May 5 in Washington, D.C., to discuss the issue and provide solutions to increase the graduation rates of Black men in STEM fields. The panel was led by Gary May, dean of the College of Engineering at Georgia Tech. In fact, the majority of the panel was made up of Black men working in STEM.
According to Georgia Institute Technology News, “joining May on the panel were: Rodney Adkins, former senior vice president of IBM and a Georgia Tech alumnus; Reginald DesRoches, Karen and John Huff School Chair of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Georgia Tech; Jeremy Feaster, Ph.D. candidate in chemical engineering at Stanford University; Darryll Pines, dean of the Clark School of Engineering at the University of Maryland; Guy Primus, co-founder and chief operating officer of The Virtual Reality Company; Karl Reid, executive director of the National Society of Black Engineers; Cedric Stallworth, assistant dean for outreach, enrollment and community for the College of Computing at Georgia Tech; John Silvanus Wilson Jr., president of Morehouse College; and Kyle Woumn, computer science major at Georgia Tech.”
The panel discussed reasons why many Black males fall behind in STEM fields. The panelists discussed how they succeeded and what solutions could help increase numbers. They also emphasized the need for mentors, hands-on STEM programs in K-12 programs to get young people interested, and they wanted corporations and parents to get involved.
Blerds has covered STEM, discussed solutions for the issues and provided examples of successful Black men and women of all ages in STEM.
Georgia Tech is one example of Black people helping Black people to expand STEM careers to younger people. It is quite possible other institutions of higher learning will discuss and take action to include more Black males in STEM.
Our students’ weak test performance is “the beginning of the end of what we thought of as America … that had a priority of leading the world,” Tyson says.
In a report from Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development countries, “among the 34 members, the United States performed below average in mathematics in 2012 and is ranked 27th.” The United States does not focus on STEM careers as it once did in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s. Manufacturing and tech jobs are scarce even though Silicon Valley has many booming startups.
The report alludes to the dysfunction of K-12 learning in the United States. In regard to science and reading, the U.S. is average. In order for minorities to become interested in STEM careers, the U.S. will have to evaluate its educational system and determine if education can be a valuable tool to use to compete on a global stage.
Today’s biggest tech giants and other major corporations have been doing their best to drive diversity in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) after reports recently revealed just how many white males dominated the space. Now, the government is also adding to the conversation with the return of “We the Geeks.”
The White House recently announced that in honor of Black History Month, the special Google + Hangout series will be making a return and making a point to highlight the “untold stories of African Americans in STEM.”
The series, which returns Wednesday at 2 p.m. EST, will bring “extraordinary students, scientists, engineers and inventors” together to talk “about how they got inspired to pursue STEM and how they are paying it forward to help engage America’s full and diverse STEM talent pool.”
According to the White House’s official website, the series of guests will include Rachel Harrison Gordon, presidential innovation fellow; Marvin Carr, student volunteer at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy; Nicolas Badila, winner of the National STEM Video Game Challenge, and several other leaders in STEM.
The website claims the return of the Google + Hangout series is a federal response to the lack of diversity in STEM.
“Today, minorities remain considerably underrepresented in many areas of the Nation’s STEM student-pool and workforce,” the website reads. “This is a squandered opportunity for our country and for those bright, creative individuals who might otherwise help solve the problems we face as a country and enjoy STEM careers — the kind of careers that not only make a positive difference in the world, but also pay more than non-STEM jobs.”
In addition to the Google + Hangout special, the White House also hosted a virtual Edit-a-Thon on Tuesday.
The Edit-a-Thon allowed “researchers, students, and expert Wikipedia-editors” to “convene in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building for a two-hour editing sprint to research and crowd-source the stories of African American STEM all-stars.”
National Organization for the Professional Advancement of Black Chemists and Chemical Engineers
This organization was created in 1972 to build a community of minority scientists and engineers. It serves as a catalyst to diversify a majority white field. The organization currently has 39 professional and university chapters.
National Organization of Blacks in Government
Members of this organization are civil servants at the federal, state, county and municipal levels. Blacks in Government was founded in 1975. It currently has more than 50 chapters, including the Departments of State and Homeland Security, the Coast Guard and the National Institutes of Health.
She is the security and privacy product manager of Apple. Snyder’s parents worked as programmers and taught her the program BASIC at 5 years old. Snyder is an expert on cryptography and has worked at Mozilla, where the Web browser Firefox was developed, and Microsoft.
The Kenyan native was originally a Harvard-educated lawyer before turning to tech. Her company Ushahidi is a revolutionary crowd-sourcing platform that allows citizen journalists and eyewitnesses all over the world to report incidences of violence through the Web, mobile E-mail, SMS and Twitter. She currently serves as Google’s policy manager for Africa.
As a Black woman, Farida Bedwei already had some serious challenges ahead if she wanted to launch a successful career in the tech space. Being diagnosed with cerebral palsy meant she had yet another obstacle to navigate on her road to becoming a software engineer — but she didn’t necessarily see it that way.
Bedwei was only 1 year old when she was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, an incurable neurological disorder that impacts muscle coordination and body movement.
Bedwei assured herself that her disorder would never get in the way of the things she hoped to accomplish, and her impressive success in the technology field today is proof that she lived up to her word.
After conquering tech’s high barriers to entry for Black people and women, Bedwei is now the co-founder and chief technical officer of Logiciel. She was also deemed the most influential woman in business and government in Africa for the financial sector by South Africa’s CEO Magazine.
She has accomplished things that many aspiring tech entrepreneurs would only dream about, including developing a cloud platform that is currently being used by more than 100 micro-finance companies, CNN reported.
It would be hard to find anyone who would refer to Bedwei as a woman with a disability before they identified her as a tech guru, influential businesswoman and a software engineering mastermind.
Her journey to tech stardom began when she was only 12 years old.
She had been home-schooled all her life until that age. At that point, Bedwei was enrolled at a government school so that she could begin socializing with other children.
When her family realized she had a serious interest in computers, they decided that she would skip out on her senior year of high school and enroll in a computer course at the St. Michael information technology center instead.
“I’m sure most of my classmates were wondering what I was doing with them,” Bedwei said as she reflected on being the youngest of her class, according to CNN. “And that is how I started my career as a software engineer because through that course I realized what aspect of IT I was going to specialize in. I loved the idea of solving problems and creating things.”
From that point forward, Bedwei was always setting new goals for herself and working tirelessly to make sure she was able to achieve every one of them.
After she graduated from the information technology center, she decided that Soft, a premier software company in Ghana, was the best company for her.
She didn’t exactly check off all the boxes for the ideal candidate, but that didn’t stop her.
“I went and saw the head of the technical division and I told him, ‘I want a job here, I don’t have any experience, but I’m inspired to learn. … If you give me the chance, I promise you that you’ll never regret it,’ “ Bedwei continued.
Her plan worked and he offered Bedwei the opportunity to come on board the team.
Throughout the years, she worked at several different companies and spent nine years with Rancard Solutions.
By this time, she had already earned two diplomas and was on her way to earning a degree as well.
In 2010, she joined the team at G-Life Financial Services and began building her own cloud software program called gKudi with her colleague Derrick Dankyi.
Bedwei would be an incredible inspiration for anyone, but she has been an exceptionally stellar role model for young children who refuse to be limited by their own disabilities.
“I am a role model for a lot of children with disabilities, and it’s very important for me to showcase to the world that … Yes … You can have a disabled child, and it’s not the end of the world,” she said. “There is so much that that child can end up doing given the right resources.”
You may have heard of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) subjects, but more and more programs are beginning to focus on STEAM (STEM + Art), recognizing the importance of art and design in education, research and policy. Dr. Nettrice Gaskins, STEAM education lab director at Boston Arts Academy, investigates culturally situated arts-based learning and new media and how they are developed and practiced in creative communities. In addition to her extensive work in the STEAM field, she frequently writes about and advances theory and research on Black futurism, digital technologies, art and music. In this interview, Gaskins offers her thoughts on Afrofuturism, race, technology, art and where it all intersects out in the real world.
How do you define technology? Where do art and technology cross paths?
Technology comes from a Greek word (teche) that translates as art, skill, cunning of hand and another word (logia) that means I speak. This makes me think of Public Enemy’s Terminator X Speaks With His Hands, or Sun Ra’s use of different instruments such as early electronic keyboards. Art and music, in of themselves, are products, but you need a tool, system or platform with which to extrapolate, communicate and amplify that information. That’s how an art form becomes technology. Technology is the making, modification, usage and knowledge of tools, systems or platforms to solve problems or improve a pre-existing solution to a problem. Take, for example, the problem of race: Ta-Nehisi Coates writes about race as a social construct and Beth Coleman writes about race as technology. Both are correct; we have constructed tools, systems and platforms to characterize race. I explored the idea of “race as technology” in my Art21 post, Black Futurism: The Creative Destruction and Reconstruction of Race in Contemporary Art, specifically how African-American artists trouble the notion of race.
One criticism about Afrofuturism is that it does not advance technology or dream up novel technologies that can have practical, real-life applications. What are your thoughts on this critique?
One of the early scholars of Afrofuturism, Alondra Nelson, co-wrote Technicolor: Race, Technology, and Everyday Life. In the book, she asserts that it is necessary to use a broader understanding of technology, and to include not only those thought to create revolutions (e.g. information technologies), but also those with which people come in contact in their daily lives.
To address Nelson’s challenge, my research more fully realizes the “different levels of technical knowledge and innovation that individuals and communities bring to their world, play, and creative expression.” This includes studying Sun Ra, as well as contemporary artists who tinker with found materials to create something new. One example of this is Grandmaster Flash who has been credited with the invention of the first crossfader by sourcing parts from a junkyard in the Bronx. This is a real-life application that helped bring hip-hop to the rest of the world. Of course, there are smaller revolutions taking place in artists’ studios. The problem is that we generally do not hear about these inventions. Grandmaster Flash’s role as an inventor was nearly lost to history. Cultural institutions such as the Smithsonian have ensured his place in history, as well as George Clinton’s mothership that was recently acquired and rebuilt for permanent exhibition there.
How do we nurture and sustain these developments, particularly with our youth? In what ways is culturally situated arts-based learning accessible to poor and marginalized communities?
In order to sustain these developments, we have to create and sustain formal and informal learning environments where young people or even adults can tinker, experiment and play with technology. This is especially true for people who have been historically marginalized in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). The artist’s and sound engineer’s studios are places where this happens, but with continuous, deep cuts in arts programs and that lack of new media in the schools, it makes access to these learning spaces difficult or impossible.
How does Afrofuturism/Black futurism inform your research and real-life work in the fields of art and technology? What experiences or inspirations led you to focus on and develop STEAM and culturally situated arts-based learning? Five to 10 years into the future, what role, impact and application do you see your work having?
When I was in high school, I double-majored in visual art and college/university, which meant that I was learning the craft and science of making ceramics (for example) while creating computer-generated anatomy illustrations in the same art classroom. I painted a mural demonstrating parabolic functions on my math teacher’s wall. Speaking of parabolas, check out the work of Fred Eversley: to me his work belongs in Afrofuturism. Eversley originally worked in the engineering and aerospace industry before deciding to become an artist. He also invented a technique of centrifugal casting of multi-color, multi-layer, concentric ring sculptures made of plastics.
However, unlike Eversley and other artists who prefer abstraction to dealing with race, I explored cultural heritage and hip-hop at a young age. I was doing independent research that led me to link the now old-school bamboo-style door knocker earrings with gold earrings worn by Ghanaian women. I created computer art illustrating these links when I was in the 12th grade. That piece was part of a series that got first place in Pratt Institute’s National Talent Search. That’s how I got to Pratt from a small town in Kentucky.
That’s what it’s really about, not just STEAM and culturally situated arts-based learning but advancing new approaches to the development of these models and providing multiple paths to success in school and the 21st century workforce. This year I conducted workshops with 150 middle school students who were predominantly African-American and these young people were inventing with paper and culturally situated design tools, including Afrofuturism CSDTs developed at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI). These tools are online and free to use but it’s going to take a system to broaden access to and engagement in STEM.
My next challenge is building a new STEAM lab at Boston Arts Academy. The launch of the lab will take place in early fall. During the final interview for the position, I presented math and music curriculum using John Coltrane’s Giant Steps. This song and album is still considered innovative. Coltrane and Sun Ra were contemporaries and, apparently, studied together.
You can find more of Dr. Gaskins’ work at http://nettrice.us