Where will the next STEM opportunity come from?

September 18, 2015 Leave a comment


Throwback to summer 2002 and me in the one NASA shirt I own from participating in the NASA Summer High School Apprenticeship Research Program (SHARP+) at Cornell University.

The torrent of praise and opportunities presented to Ahmed Mohamed in the past two days is fantastic But it also reminds me that so many programs that I did as a child that nurtured my interest in STEM no longer exist or are very limited in their programmatic offerings.

  • A week at Science in the Summer at the Free Library of Philadelphia had me on an oceanography kick for 2 years in elementary school. Another summer, I eagerly waited until the end of week, learning about electricity, so I could use the Van de Graaff generator. I wanted to know if it would make kinky, braided hair like mine stand on end too.
  • At the PACE program at Rutgers-Camden in middle school, I got play with microprocessors, learn binary and hexadecimal number systems, and use them to write basic commands.
  • The summer after 10th grade, I spent 6 weeks at Carnegie Mellon University, participating in their Advanced Placement/Early Admission Program. I took differential & integral calculus and intro to electrical and computer engineering. In the lab section, groups of two built remote controlled robots, applying what we were learning in lecture. On the last day of class, we raced our robots through a mini obstacle course.
  • The next summer I participated in NASA SHARP Plus at Cornell. I got paid that summer to assist a postdoc on her molecular biology and genetics research, working with yeast cells. The 20 high school participants conducted scientific research in different labs on campus for 8 weeks. Every night we’d come back to the dorm with different stories of what we learned or what cool thing we experienced.

I take this stroll down memory lane to discuss some of the co-curricular experiences I had in STEM that led me to study electrical engineering in college. But it saddens me when I realize that two of those programs no longer exist and the other two have changed their structure. Early exposure to STEM and encouragement to try things, to test out a hypothesis that you came up with, to build something new, to take something apart and repair it are necessities to foster ingenuity, creativity, and more STEM students and professionals.

I hope that some of the companies, universities, government officials and institutions think about how they can foster more STEM loving kids in their own backyard. Match some of that praise for Ahmed with funding for programs that might discover and aid the next STEM loving Black kid.

Keep tinkering and creating Ahmed.


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June 18, 2015 Leave a comment

I’m horrified.

I finally went to sleep with a face damp from tears, a headache from crying too much, and a heavy heart.

Nine Black people killed at prayer meeting last night at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC.

I think about how they likely welcomed the killer into the prayer meeting, even though he was a new face. Probably telling him that they’d pray for him and that if he’s looking for church home he’d be welcome at Emanuel.

I think about the late nights my mom spent at church when I was growing up, because she was the organist and choir director.

I think about the late nights my dad spent at church, on the men’s ministry and the vestry.

I think about the late nights my grandfather spent at church since he’s a trustee.

I think about the late nights my grandmom spent at church, at prayer meetings.

I think about the youth usher board meetings, youth choir meetings, and more that I attended growing up in church.

I think about the history of the African Methodist Church, founded in Philadelphia by Richard Allen, who bought his freedom by working odd jobs for the Continental Army during the American Revolution. Allen started the AME church, the first independent Black denomination in the country, after rejecting the segregated conditions at St. George’s Methodist Church.

I think about how 2016 will be the 200th anniversary of the incorporation of the African Methodist Episcopal church with celebrations planned at Mother Bethel AME Church in Philadelphia, the church Allen founded.

I think about Emanuel AME, which is the oldest Black church south of Baltimore. It is where Denmark Vesey planned a slave revolt and the church was subsequently burned to the ground. The members rebuilt the church and worshiped there, until an 1834 Charleston law banned all Black churches.The members kept the congregation going underground until it was safe(r) at the end of the Civil War.

I think the September 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, AL that killed 4 Black girls – Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson, and Cynthia Wesley. Sarah Collins Rudolph was injured in the bombing that killed her sister Addie Mae and something she said in Spike Lee’s 4 Little Girls comes to mind:

“For a long time I was real afraid of being on the outside as well as the inside of anywhere.” ~ Sarah Collins Rudolph

I think about how there are no safe spaces from racism in the United States for Black people and my face is still damp with tears, my head still hurts, and my heart is still heavy.

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Questions about Free Community College

January 8, 2015 Leave a comment


President Obama announced a proposal to make two years of community college free for responsible students. Details here. More will be unveiled in the President’s speech in Tennessee tomorrow and at the State of the Union later this month.

I think it’s a good idea and I want to know more.

Here are the questions that came to mind:

  1. What are the lifelong employment and salary outcomes of those with a high school diploma versus those with AA/AS degree versus those with some college? Especially among people ages 20-40
    1. How will the program be administered? By the federal government, through state governments, or through community colleges?
      1. How will it be funded?
        1. How will it affect funding for all other federal financial aid offerings and federal monies directed toward higher ed?
          1. i.e. Increases in Pell Grant monies have come at the expense of federal financial aid dollars for graduate students (Javits fellowship, subsidized federal loans for graduate students, etc)
        2. What is the role of state funding of community colleges and state financial aid dollars for their state residents?
      2. Will this standardize community college offerings, openings, structures, etc across the states?
        1. How will this affect transfer policies to 4-year universities? Acceptance of credits from community college coursework varies from program to program within the same university let alone from college to college
          1. Is this only open to immediate high school graduates? Can those with a GED or who graduated years ago take advantage of 2 free years of community college?
            1. Is the program for 2 years or the amount of time necessary to achieve credits equal to 2 years of full time enrollment in a community college
              1. Do community colleges currently have the capacity to meet this demand? If no, how will the sector expand to meet it
                1. Can HBCUs that are on the verge of closure or merger rebrand as community colleges to take advantage of this proposal?
              2. Is it open to undocumented immigrants? Is it dependent on state legislatures to pass the modified versions of the DREAM act or in-state tuition legislation?
                1. Is it tied to Common Core in K-12? Will students be required to pass/meet a specific score on a HS exit exam or college entrance exam to benefit from the program?
                  1. Remedial coursework – What about students who need remedial coursework before taking college level classes, especially in mathematics?
                  2. Will SAT/ACT be required for admission?
                2. Does this further stratify higher ed – between top tier universities that will still compose 90+% of their graduating class from those who enroll as freshmen?
                  1. What types of colleges will have sufficient space in their 3rd year classes to accept large numbers of admits?
                  2. How will this program respond to/mitigate the benefits that accrue to students who attend 4-yr colleges versus those who transfer in from community colleges?
                  3. How will this remake the undergraduate college experience?
                3. How will this affect and change the current community college?
                  1. What about the populations that they currently serve that would not be eligible for this program?
                4. Credential-ism creep
                  1. How will employers respond to this?
                  2. Will it further devalue the worth of a HS diploma/GED in the job market?
                  3. Will the value of a BA/BS degree increase with the increase number of AA/some college people?
                5. What about non-traditional students?
                  1. Older, parents, aged-out of foster system, homeless, etc


                I don’t work in education anymore and don’t have the time to research all of this any more, so I’m opening it to the internet.

                Have at it in the comments


                Update (1/29/15) Sara Goldrick-Rab and the good people at the Wisconsin Hope Lab have put together a good FAQ on the President’s community college plan. Check it out.

                Categories: Uncategorized

                Future Plans

                August 11, 2014 Leave a comment

                The death of Michael Brown reminded me of my students and the one moment this past year that left me mute; temporarily unable to respond and redirect them to the geometry lesson at hand.

                They were talking about where they wanted to be buried.

                At 15 and 16 years old, they were picking out cemetery plots, highlighting the pros and cons of one hometown cemetery over another. They went on to discuss where in the cemetery they wanted to be buried.

                “…Along X street, where the black fence has the intricate design and the ground is raised, so I’d always look out over the city”

                The everyday, casualness of the conversation stunned me as did the conversation’s content.

                Cemetery plots are the future plans they carry, along with the college & career goals we talk about at school, along with the families and friends they have and hope to gain.

                I want their dreams to be wrong. I want to reassure them that there’s no need to pick out cemetery plots, but I can’t. Not when a fellow classmate was murdered this year, not when Black and Brown youth their age are routinely murdered.

                Categories: Uncategorized

                Curating my 2013 faves

                January 1, 2014 Leave a comment

                I read a lot in a year and want to highlight my 2013 favorites.


                Articles/Blogs/Posts/Things Written on the Internet

                NPR’s look back at 1963, including the @Todayin1963 timeline and the Summer of ’63 series – including Karen Grigsby Bates’ talks with the children of slain civil rights leaders – Martin Luther King, Medgar Evers, and Viola Liuzzo.

                Two pieces on Homelessness in NYC – Invisible Child: The 5-part series in the New York Times on the life of Dasani and Hidden City – Ian Frazier’s longread in the New Yorker.

                Two articles on civil forfeiture – Isaiah Thompson in ProPublica focused on Philadelphia and Sarah Stillman in the New Yorker with a national focus.

                Diane McWhorter’s op-ed in NYT: Civil Rights Justice on the Cheap

                When the Lights Shut Off: Kendrick Lamar and the Decline of the Black Blues Narrative by Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah

                If You Live Your Life On The Move, Where Do You Call Home? By Joshunda Sanders

                26 Women Share their Abortion Stories in New York Magazine

                On PRISM, or Listening Neoliberally by Robin James

                What’s Killing Poor White Women by Monica Potts in The American Prospect



                Harry Belafonte’s Speech at the NAACP Image Awards

                Imani Perry and Jelani Cobb’s podcast on President Obama’s comments at the March on Washington commemoration

                Ava DuVernay’s shorts: The Door for Miu Miu starring Gabrielle Union and Say Yes for Fashion Fair starring Kali Hawk and Lance Gross.

                Charlayne Hunter-Gault’s look back at Nelson Mandela’s life

                Jesse Williams on Aisha Tyler’s Girl on Guy podcast

                the short “Coach” on C. Vivian Stringer, part of ESPN’s Nine for IX series


                Writers I discovered this year:

                Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah

                Sarah Kendzior


                Writers whose writings I eagerly await.

                Stacia L. Brown

                dream hampton

                Ta-Nehisi Coates

                warsan shire

                Jamila Aisha Brown

                Renina Jarmon

                Nicole D. Collier

                Joshunda Sanders


                Newsier Reads…

                Stephanie Coontz on the NYT Op-Ed pages

                Tom Edsall

                Jelani Cobb in the New Yorker


                The story that I read the most about was the turmoil in the Philadelphia school district. From the closure of 23 schools in June, the draconian budget cuts deemed necessary to open the schools in September, to the ongoing budgt crisis and continuing labor negotiations with the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers. An assortment of sources provided coverage: the Philadelphia Public School Notebook is my number one stop for Philly education news. Also: Helen Gym’s twitter feed, Susan Snyder, Kristen A. Graham and Martha Woodall at the Philadelphia Inquirer, Daniel Denvir at City Paper and the team at Newsworks. In national media, there were good pieces in the New York Times, NPR, The American Prospect and more.

                There were many parallels in the school closings in Chicago, DC, and more and the systematic dismantling of public education in US cities.


                This is what I’ve got for now.

                Onward and upward for 2014.

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                Thinking About Whitney

                August 9, 2012 Leave a comment

                I started this after Whitney died and never finished it. Since today is her birthday, I decided to tackle it, hopefully without too many tears.


                It’s been over a month since Whitney Elizabeth Houston died. This celebrity death has lingered with me much more than any other. Since I was born in 1986 with the first name of Whitney, there was no way that I could escape her presence. But I didn’t grow up with her music. I was barely cognizant of current-day music until 94 or 95. Whitney wasn’t what was played in the house unless a song came up on the rotation on WDAS while my mom was cooking or cleaning.

                But the later Whitney I embraced, and I was thrilled to hear her live at Mann Music Center on tour for the My Love is your Love album. And I of course dug into her entire catalog.

                More than the music and her immaculate voice, the later Whitney is the one that I wrestle with in my thoughts. Her sureness of her relationship with Jesus despite the turmoil & challenges is one that helps me understand that I am worthy too no matter what’s gone on I’m my life. I feel surprising envy for that type of relationship with God and Whitney’s talk about hers helps me better understand what my mom talks about when she calls me every Sunday.

                That sense that I am enough, flaws and all is what I see in Whitney in her later interviews. Embracing what she evolved into and living fully in that present. Something that I am not currently doing in my own life. The gift and talent that was her voice and making use of the talents and gifts that you have is the other thing that listening to old Whitney records brings to the forefront. It makes me question myself, am I doing enough with my gifts and talents?

                I listen to her music and strive to get better and embrace my whole self and to be enough as I am.


                Happy Birthday Whitney. Rest in everlasting peace.

                Categories: Uncategorized

                Papers Please is for Black Girls Too

                August 6, 2012 1 comment

                Alexis Sumpter, a 15 year old Harlem resident, was handcuffed and detained at a NYC metro station by the NYPD for 90 minutes after she swiped her student metro card, on her way to the first day at her marketing internship. Two plainclothes police officers approached her and told her that “she looked older than her age to be using a student metro card.”  Sumpter told them that she was 15 years old and that she didn’t have any ID because it was recently stolen.

                “They called me liar, then they grabbed me by my arms and flung me up the stairs. I kept saying, I’m only 15 — why are you guys doing this?”

                A third cop joined them and he pressed her face against the wall while the other two cops handcuffed her.

                The police called her dad and he told them that Alexis is 15 years old.

                But the police didn’t believe him.

                The police called her mom and she came to the metro station to tell the cops that Alexis is 15 years old.

                But the police didn’t believe her.

                Alexis’ mom went home, retrieved Alexis’ birth certificate and brought it to the metro station.

                Only then did the police believe that Alexis is 15 years old and released her.

                So many issues come to mind while reading this story.  “Papers please” by the NYPD in a Harlem metro station, like the “papers please”Arizona  SB1070 law. A law that presented as targeting immigrants but invariably  affecting all people of color in the US. The police don’t believe the truth of Alexis’ parents, only the papers.

                The demand for identification in an era of increasingly  strict voter ID laws, when blacks, Latin@s, young people and the elderly are least likely to have valid ID. The lack of valid voter ID leads to reduced ability to effect change via the political process.

                The fragility of Black girlhood. 15 years old but seen as a grown woman by the police. The innocence of adolescence is far gone. Alexis no longer rides that train line, accommodating her life to the mistreatment & poor behavior of others.

                Check the NY Daily News video to listen to Alexis tell her story.

                Categories: Uncategorized

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