Last year, while I was standing with my sixth-grade all-Black team at a National STEM competition in Houston, Texas, I looked around surprised (or maybe not) at what I saw. With the 58 middle school teams they were competing against, I could count on a few fingers how many other teams looked like them. What was even more shocking, as our team went to the “trade floor” — a space for companies to talk about their business and expose students to different STEM careers — and heard companies talk about robots to repair wind turbines and new technology for solar energy, no one speaking to them looked like them. None of them were Black.

I found two Black women with badges on and ran over to them. I told them I’ve been searching for an exhibit to show my team that had Black people working it. She looked at me sadly and said, “This isn’t our exhibit. We were just hired to tell people to watch their step, so they won’t trip.” I knew right then something had to change. How could I prepare my students to bust down these doors to the STEM industry? With over six years of experience in education, I’ve done a wide range of things across many different states.

Beginning with teaching seventh-grade math to creating STEM programs for two different schools, having nationally ranked robotics teams, and helping found a STEM school, my passion for STEM education is evident. While teaching STEM this year, I realized that I could be doing more and reaching more students by getting schools to notice the opportunities our students of color could have.

In November, I launched my own company called, Awakening STEM. Awakening STEM’s mission is to provide quality STEM services, centering around students of color in the Washington D.C. area. With only a small percentage of people of color in the STEM industry, it is our purpose to expose students to the skills necessary to break down the barriers put up against them. Here are a few reasons why students of color should be taught these skills to pursue a career in the STEM industry:

Job Growth

According to The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, between 2016-2026, jobs in the STEM industry are projected to grow by 10.8 percent. That is three percent higher than any other industry. If students have the necessary skills, they have a higher chance of securing a job, with the industry growing so aggressively. 

 Black STEM Workers are Underrepresented

Even with the STEM Industry being one of the fastest-growing industries, Black people in the STEM industry are underrepresented. In 2018, the Pew Research Center reported that Black workers make up less than 10 percent of the STEM industry. It begins with schools and access. Schools that serve majority-Black students are less likely to have the same access and opportunity to gain skills for STEM careers. This is why we need to launch our own programs like Awakening STEM to provide Black students with the knowledge that their schools do not provide. 

Higher Average Salary

An average entry-level salary for a STEM field career is over $65,000, according to Burning Glass Technologies. A non-STEM field career average entry-level salary is $52,299. Black students have the opportunity to possibly make more money and put a stop to generational poverty by going into the STEM industry. 

Awakening STEM

With this understanding, I plan to use Awakening STEM to make schools, students, families, and communities aware of the opportunities in the STEM industry and equip them with skills to pursue a career in the industry. I offer in-school programming (coding, robotics, 3D printing, maker-space, etc.), after-school programming (robotics club, an hour of code, competitive teams), and STEM events (STEM nights, Parents Code, Maker Space Event, Career Day/Night). With these services, I want to close the opportunity gap for students of color and give them the access they deserve to be successful.