Last week the White House Office of Public Engagement, along with the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans, honored ten Champions of Change in honor of their achievements and contributions to exposing and accelerating Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) opportunities for more African American youth and communities. Each of the Champions founded innovative ways to inspire interest and provide access for African American youth in STEM whether it’s through hackathons, technology programs for girls of color in underserved school districts, skill development summer programs or STEM enrichment programs for educators. They created opportunities based on their own personal experiences of what they never had growing up.
Kalimah Priforce was inspired to pursue a career in STEM when he was in grade school and enrolled in a science camp. Coming from a group home, he was excited to experience his favorite subjects in a new environment. As he stood at the bus stop in front of his group home, Kalimah watched the science camp bus drive right past him. Left with disappointment, that moment was the turning point in his life – he had to get out and take control of his own life. Today, he uses web and mobile-based technology, hackathons with young men of color, to promote mentorship and innovation in technology as a creative outlet instead of an unconquerable challenge. Danielle Lee never let her grade point average define her career or dreams. She went from being a C-student in Biology to having a PHD in Biology. She looked beyond the classroom to apply her technical skills and found creative solutions to everyday problems, even rewiring the electricity in her home so that she could have a television in her room.
In 2012, President Obama launched the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans to help accelerate national efforts to support African American students – because improving educational opportunities for all students is critical to ensuring we increase college completion and employment rates to strengthen our nation’s economy.
These STEM Champions are using strategies that support investments even in our youngest learners which we know will enhance “Opportunity for All,” the center of the President’s State of the Union speech this year, and enable them to pursue and persist in college and specialized training for STEM careers. The future of our country depends on both improving youth access to these fields and ensuring that their interest and skillset is encouraged, developed, and promoted beyond the classroom.
Rumana Ahmed is an Executive Assistant to the Director of Public Engagement