A few months before my father died of cancer, I decided to leave a job, where I directed STEM-based afterschool programs for a nonprofit in New York City, and launch STEM Kids NYC. My decision to leave was greatly influenced by my need to spend more time with my father, who had been diagnosed with cancer. I also saw the soft launch of my company as an initial effort to scale back my work hours so I can travel back and forth from New York to Ohio. You see, it was my father who had introduced me to computer programming when I was in 7th grade, and it was he used to tell me often, 'You can be anything you want to be.' I believed him then as I do now. It is this inner belief that I seek to instill into the development of the STEM and STEAM programs and ensure that this belief is within those who choose to join the STEM Kids NYC team.
My dream is that all children in PreK-12 receive an introduction and then rigorous curriculum that involves Computer Science, Engineering, and project-based critical thinking instruction when they are in school, as well in out of school time programs. Before I graduated with a degree in Information Systems, I experienced the perceived as well as actual isolation in my Computer Science classes and lab sessions. The feeling was also the same when I worked as a Systems Programmer in the IT world. I would have been more incensed to stay in IT had I had more people who looked like me in those fields. In addition, I witnessed first hand the actual income disparities between black women and white men found in the IT departments of the companies I worked for, and felt alone when I chose to advocate for a fair salary, as compared to my while male colleagues.
When I worked in the Silicon Valley, I saw all too clearly the evident absence of people of color in the tech industry. I also saw more people of color as early adopters to the software, apps, and programs produced by mostly white tech developers.
Now that I'm in the education sector, I seek to reverse the trend of teaching in underrepresented communities that are likened to STEM deserts and communities where little to no STEM programs are evidenced. My company produces programs that enable all kids, particularly kids who live in underrepresented communities, to become the developers and architects of new technologies and engineers of new design trends that are useful for and will be adopted and used by everyone in society.
With this notion in mind, I, after researching and having several conversations with professionals in education, nonprofit, philanthropic, and technology spaces, have concluded that a program that exposes students as young as 6 is an appropriate venture to add to the tech bootcamp and afterschool programs-for-youth space.
Whenever I hear one of my students express, "I'm not good at science" or "I don't get it” (the math word problem or the computer program), I look them in the eye and tell them, "Math is fun" or "Science is awesome - you're doing great" or "What part of the problem don't you get? or “Let’s figure it out together". Usually, this works, and then I notice later - after they realize they are in a safe space with me, that I ensure there is support in the form of qualified resources who work with me to help them, that we do not frown upon a small failure or several failures - that my students DO get it. They DO figure it out. And, I know they WILL be scientists, or mathematicians, or teachers, or social workers, or whatever they choose to be. It's having the choice to be that I feel is the most inspiring to the students. The freedom to choose based upon equal access, equal time for support, and unbiased teachers that resemble who they are and that know they CAN GET it is what will move the needle towards closing the gap that exists in qualified vs lack of qualified STEM professionals in the U.S.
In honor of my father’s legacy - and his insistence that one can be anything one chooses to be - I created this program to help the next generation of youth become the architects of the next wave of solutions that will benefit today’s and tomorrow’s societies. I envision STEM Kids NYC to be a program that will give young, intelligent, driven kids and young adults access to this exciting and dynamic field I know as the wonderful world of STEM.