Interviews

SciTech2U Making STEM Education Accessible for Minorities in the US

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With our growing reliance on technology in our daily lives, we’ve all heard that the science and technology fields are becoming increasingly important and that our children should be well equipped with their studies in these fields. Do we really know what these really mean for our children?

Why STEM education is important

STEM stands for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. In today’s modern world, our world, our economy, our daily lives depend much on science, technology, engineering, and maths. STEM education is no longer for aspiring doctors, engineers, and scientists, but also for everyone else who wants to understand the world they live in now.

It’s estimated that 2.4 million STEM jobs go unfilled. STEM jobs, even at an associate degree level, pay 1.5 times more than the average American job and doubles that at a Master’s degree level. STEM jobs are the fastest-growing sector, which doubles all other job sectors. (source: Smithsonian).

However, the minority community in the US is underrepresented in the STEM field, with only 2.2%, 2.7%, and 3.3% of Latinos, African-Americans and Native Americans possessing a STEM university degree. This essentially means that the minority communities are being left out of the high-paying, high growth, STEM jobs (source: Smithsonian).

Minority STEM Programs for K-12 Education

SciTech2U is a non-profit organization based in Maryland, USA, for K-12 education (kindergarten to twelfth grade) for children of minority communities. Their STEM programs are based on out-of-school and after school instruction that is focused on providing experiential learning in science-based education.

STEM experiential learning

SciTech2U aims to nurture future scientists through hands-on STEM experience to spark their interest in STEM careers. Their programs cover environmental awareness, chemistry, anatomy, physiology, engineering, and aeronautics.

STEM for K-12 education encourages students to enroll in STEM-based courses in college, and open their minds to pursue careers in STtEM-related fields. Moreover, students are more likely to be confident about their studies in general and far less likely to drop out of college.

The People Behind SciTech2U

We spoke with SciTech2U founder and CEO, Zainab Abbas, and Kevin Bryant who is a board member of SciTech2u. We asked why ScieTech2U focused on minority children, how the idea for SciTech started, and their plans for the future.

They are a married Muslim couple, and have tirelessly brought SciTech2U alive since 2011. Despite the organization’s lack of resources in its earlier years, they have taught over 75 students since its inception and have inspired children to be interested in their studies, and in particular, in science and technology.

The following are some of the questions we asked in the interview.

How Did SciTech2U Start?

According to Zainab, “When I taught biotechnology at a local college, I noticed that many students from the minority group, mainly African Americans, did not know much about biotechnology.”

“At my first class at the local college, there was one particular student who was struggling at the beginning of my class. However, I noticed that when he did work hard and applied himself in his studies, he earned good results. So she decided to talk to him and tell him that,”

“I see you’re a very smart person, and charismatic, and if you apply yourself [to your studies], you could get an A in this class. “

“After the conversation with the student, the student improved in his study habits and performance. I saw improvements overtime in his grades and his attitude towards his studies. He went from an F student to an A student.”

“Forward a few more weeks and the president of the local college came into my class while I was teaching with two plainclothes police officers. The police officers handcuffed the student and arrested him. “

Zainab was heartbroken. She wanted to tell the police that the student had changed, and had become a better student. Zainab never really found out why her student was arrested.

That incident led Zainab to realize that students from underprivileged backgrounds that have the potential to do great things, but if they don’t have the exposure or access to resources to cultivate their education, then they fall into traps of their environments that stifle their career outlook.

That was the impetus that led Zainab to start SciTech2U.

How did you get minority students to be interested in STEM?

“Minority students pursuing other courses at the local college would be curious of what a biotechnology course is about. The minority students would peek into the biotechnology class, and later on, ask questions about science.”

“I would get questions like, ‘what are you doing in there?’ and ‘what do you do?. Some of these students are apprehensive about biotech because they didn’t understand it. They thought it was out of reach for them.

“However, when I engaged them in conversations about biology, the students then realize that learning and applying biotech was within their reach. They understood that biotechnology was not as complicated as they first thought, and they can understand. Some of the students ended up switching courses to study biotechnology from me,” says Zaynab.

STEM activities at SciTech

SciTech2U educates the children with experiments and hands-on experiential learning. Some of their activities include:

  • Aeronautics – trying flight simulators and site visits of airfields,
  • Anatomy – organ dissection,
  • Engineering – constructing a bridge from spaghetti, constructing a tepee out of newspaper,
  • Chemistry – testing chemical reactions.

Funding SciTech2U

SciTech2U is a non-profit organization, and it charges a fee for students to participate in some of its activities. However, some of their programs are free to enable many children of low-income families from underrepresented racial and ethnic populations to participate in their programs.

An Award Winner

SciTech2U has previously won a Duck Pond award by the Non-Profit Village, a non-profit incubation center in Maryland, US. The Duck Pond provided SciTech2U with professional coaching, training and technical assistance so they can grow the organization and reach more students.

As a result of the support from Non-Profit Village, SciTech2U is experiencing a growth spurt. SciTech2U is expanding its reach to provide greater access to high quality STEM programs to Muslims and non-Muslims alike. This year, they expect to serve more than a hundred students from diverse backgrounds.

Supporting SciTech2U

As a non-profit organization, SciTech2U relies on donations from kind-hearted people who believe in their mission. Please visit their website on how you can help support SciTech2U to continue to offer high-quality STEM programs to underrepresented students. Their website is www.scitech2u.org.

A small amount that could change the perspective and future of underprivileged children and youth.

Halalop Editor’s Note:

If you’re interested to learn Artificial Intelligence (AI), check out our articles on AI education here and here.

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