For nearly a decade, Dr. Keli Christopher has been on an active mission to expose Black and brown youth in her home state of Michigan to STEM.

History runs throughout the Grand Rapids, MI, native’s bloodline.

According to Forbes, she comes from a family legacy of civil rights and education activists. What’s more, her great, great grandparents founded Manassas High School.

Christopher’s historic roots ultimately led to her own academic path along with spreading higher learning to her community. Forbes reports that Christopher is the first Black person to earn a Ph.D. in agricultural engineering from the University of Illinois and the third Black woman worldwide to hold a Ph.D. in the field.

From her experience of being a Black woman engineer in an underrepresented space, she found her own way to help in closing the gap. Back in 2014, Christopher used her own funds to launch STEM Greenhouse, which helps to prepare students, especially Black girls, for STEM careers.

“I felt like people were not doing the right things to get children of color into STEM,” Christopher told the outlet. “I remember I was an engineer, and I thought to myself, ‘well, certainly I could just stay an engineer and let things remain the way they are, or maybe I could just give some time to helping the next generation be better prepared for STEM careers.'”

The outlet details that STEM Greenhouse holds six after-school programs that work to improve math and science proficiency. The preparation for students from kindergarten to 12th grade appears to have paid off as it’s reported that the programs “significantly improve their grades.”

“It is crazy looking back on it, but Dr. Christopher and I faced several early challenges, mainly because the two of us were the only staff members,” Jhay Alford shared. “We had no office space, a limited supply of almost all supplies and funding, and we had to work out of her basement. Not to mention, we could only serve two schools due to our low staffing. We are so grateful to be where we are today; it was a long time coming.” 

Christopher and the STEM Greenhouse team hope for the programs’ impact to extend past West Michigan and to the nation.