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Where will the next STEM opportunity come from?

September 18, 2015 Leave a comment

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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.

#IStandWithAhmed

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