On a mission to inspire the future generation of Black kids in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), Dr. Calvin Mackie is building an unshakable foundation down South in Bayou State.

Dr. Mackie has involved himself in the STEM field for over three decades, acquiring bachelor of science degrees from Morehouse College and Georgia Tech, where he also acquired a master of science and Ph.D. in mechanical engineering.

Dr. Mackie’s next steps would land him at Tulane University, where he would make history serving as the only African American to receive tenure status as a professor in 2002. Unfortunately, following the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Tulane made the difficult decision to discontinue its engineering program.

Walking into a new season pre-maturely, Dr. Mackie made the conscious decision to continue his purpose in New Orleans, to make a difference in his community. 

In his spirit, he recognized there was unfinished business that he needed to take care of.

Inspiration Behind STEM NOLA

Growing up in a STEM household, Dr. Mackie also wanted to make science accessible to his sons Myles Ahmad and Mason Amir. After learning about the school system’s inability to create on-hand experiments, he wanted to revive his son’s excitement into the world of STEM. Conducting engaging experiments every Saturday would even lead over 20 curious kids from his neighborhood to participate in each week’s activities. 

The experiments proved to be a success and students in Myles’s classes became appalled at the knowledge he acquired. Dr. Mackie realized he was providing his children with resources that were not accessible for all students.

“Right then and there, my son realized he was being exposed to something his friends had not,” Dr. Mackie shared with AfroTech. “He believed in his heart that if his friends were exposed, they would be just as bright as him. The frightening part was he was attending a magnet elementary school [one of the top schools in the state]. So, if his friends at his magnet school were not being exposed to these things — what does that say for kids everywhere else?”

The epiphany birthed STEM NOLA — founded in 2013 — with $100,000 from the pockets of Dr. Mackie and his wife Tracy Mackie. The award-winning program provides the Black community with human and technological capital housed through project-based learning, events and virtual learning.

To date, the award-winning program has helped over 70,000 students — predominantly underserved and low-income people of color — across 2,150 schools in the U.S. and beyond revitalize their interest in STEM.

As AfroTech previously told you, the 2018 Pew Research Center reported 10 percent of the STEM industry is composed of Black professionals signaling a lack of diversity and equity prominent in the sector. If there are programs that show the Black community that STEM is accessible, it will provide access, opportunity and information into a field that was once foreign to them due to systemic failure.

“When people think about STEM, they think about all the equations, but if we can teach our children the basic understanding of nature and different forces and how they work, we can demystify STEM for them,” Dr. Mackie said.

How STEM NOLA Is Transforming Communities

When Dr. Mackie founded the organization he wanted to ensure he was bringing STEM professionals to predominantly Black communities to affirm children and their parents the field is attainable to them.

“I invite professionals to these events so the kids can meet doctors, engineers, surgeons and get familiar with their names and have conversations with them,” he said. “The most beautiful part is that the parents are also getting to meet us and see we are real people. The fact that we have a predominantly Black audience and they are seeing Black college students and professionals — it’s transformative for everybody.”

Alongside the community programs, the organization has distributed $1.5 million into the hands of students through paid internships.

“We surround these college students with STEM professionals who we call ‘the elders,'” Dr. Mackie said. “They just show up and they can be who they are, engaging at whatever level they would like. A kid or young person can imagine themselves at any stage in life — we call that vertical mentoring.”

The First Black Captain America & STEM

In Dr. Mackie’s household, there is another looming figurehead most notably recognized as Sam Wilson, the first Black Captain American played by his brother Anthony Mackie. 

”Sam Wilson doesn’t have superpowers. He has to use critical thinking skills and all of his STEM apparatus and technology that has been afforded,” he said. “That is the same challenge our children face. They have to learn critical thinking skills and demystify technology and STEM around them to learn how to use it for their greater good to defeat their enemies and the barriers society puts before them.”

He continued: “Think of STEM as Captain America’s new indestructible, vibranium shield.  It can help tackle life’s toughest foes, like racism, poverty and discrimination. They are no match for it.”

What’s Next For STEM NOLA?

Projected to open in 2023, STEM NOLA will expand to a 42,000-square-foot innovation hub for Black excellence in New Orleans East.

The building will encourage the rapidly growing community to develop more in-depth training as they learn skills such as data science, artificial intelligence, the internet of things and predictive analytics.