Kevin Clark is being honored as an African American STEM Champion of Change.
I am humbled and appreciative to be selected as a White House STEM Access Champion of Change for my work to support and accelerate STEM opportunities for African American students, schools, and communities. I believe STEM education has the potential to improve the educational opportunities for students who are traditionally underserved, but the mere presence of STEM resources are not enough. African Americans watch the most television and spend the most time playing video games, yet a persistent achievement gap still exists. STEM resources have the most educational impact when they are used to accomplish specific tasks and solve relevant problems.
As I think about my own STEM education, I was motivated more by not wanting to incur the wrath of my grandmother if I brought home poor grades, rather than by my high school curriculum. It wasn’t until I took my first programming class in high school that I became interested and engaged in STEM content; even if it did start with figuring out how to move a computerized turtle from one end of the screen to the other.
My STEM journey continued as I majored in computer science in college, then it took a fortuitous turn when I left graduate school to work for an educational software start-up company. It was during this time that I realized the value of my STEM education and how it could be applied to the creative design and development educational software and video games. I continue to draw form that experience and knowledge as I consult and advise arts groups, the National Parks Service, museums, and children’s media organizations on issues of diversity and the effective utilization of STEM resources.
After leaving the corporate sector for higher education, I established the Center for Digital Media Innovation and Diversity (CDMID) at George Mason University to examine issues of diversity in digital media and broadening participation in STEM disciplines and careers. The STEM For All project epitomizes CDMID’s collaborative goals by convening diverse groups of researchers, practitioners, funding organizations, and policy analysts with interest, expertise, and knowledge in positively affecting the STEM participation and opportunities of traditionally underserved students.
Another CDMID project, involved the development of a mentoring model that taught middle and high school students how to work in collaborative groups to create educational video games using STEM content. Students who consistently participated in the program showed increased confidence in their math and science abilities, which was also reflected in the improved grades they reported. Although students became engaged and motivated to create STEM-themed educational video games, many of them did not know how to achieve their newly realized dream of becoming a computer programmer, graphic artist, engineer, etc.
Students and families who begin exploring STEM pathways and learning opportunities early allow for more educational options and possibilities. The HFB STEM project provides opportunities for elementary school students to engage in robotics and technology workshops during and after-school, and for their parents to participate in academic planning workshops and information sessions.
STEM education is not a panacea, but traditionally underserved communities can use STEM skills to design digital media that captures their stories and perspectives, and equips them with the skills and knowledge to be competitive in the global economy.
Kevin Clark is a professor in the division of learning technologies in the College of Education and Human Development at George Mason University. He is also the founder and director of the Center for Digital Media Innovation and Diversity.