Kristel Bell is on a mission to empower students and educators in the classroom and beyond.
Growing up, Bell was exposed to computer science early on since her mother worked in the field. Bell and her siblings were encouraged to consider engineering programs and coding classes throughout their education.
Fast forward, Bell ultimately went on to pursue a business degree at Michigan State University. Yet, she never lost her passion for STEM. So, alongside her mother and sisters, they launched Black Girls Movement in 2016. The nonprofit helps Black girls fight systemic racism by providing equal access to STEM education and resources.
“We just wanted to create opportunities for young Black girls to learn because a lot of Black girls don’t have the financial resources that they need in comparison to others. We wanted to make sure that with our programming, we always paired them with financial support by giving out scholarships,” Bell told AfroTech.
Despite the work being done through the nonprofit, Bell recognized the STEM gap was not improving quickly enough despite growing interests from the government, schools, and corporations. She pondered, “What are we missing?” Her solution to the problem was to expose kids to STEM during the formative years of childhood development through Surprise Powerz Dolls, which released its first collection on May 26, 2021.
“Being that 90 percent of a child’s brain develops by age five, why not show our girls that they can be successful at STEM during this time? It is not like we’re trying to make them into coders at that moment, but we’re trying to show them, ‘Hey, you can do this.’ ‘You can be this if you want to,'” Bell said.
She added: “Especially for Black and Latina girls, considering a lot of us come from backgrounds where we grew up kind of poor, we can break these generational cycles of poverty in our lives and our family’s lives by going into fields that are higher paying and more in demand. And also, when you’re going into these fields, you can make such a big difference in the world.”
Bridging The Gap
Suprise Powerz has a diverse collection of dolls featuring Codie the Coder Doll, Astro the Astronaut Doll, Vera the Vet Doll, and Maria the Mathemagician Doll marketed to girls between the ages of two to five.
The 16-inch tall dolls speak over 75 phrases and are “made with a diverse range of real girls’ voices, and our Hispanic doll speaks both English and Spanish,” the company’s website reveals.
“The biggest reason why I created this is I want to bridge the STEM GAP for girls. Knowing there’s a lack of representation of women in STEM, and even less representation for women of color, especially for Black women and Latina women. We wanted to show diversity with the skin tone, but also that they’re made with real-world voices. That part for me was really important and to make sure the dolls represented certain professions,” Bell said.
Bell plans to continue the momentum of Suprise Powerz by extending its efforts into the classroom. The company recently launched an “Educators” category that will encourage preschool teachers to introduce STEM to early learners. Teachers can access the “Character Play Makes STEM Fun!” book there for free.
The resource will be helpful as research from the Joan Ganz Cooney Center states “Many parents and teachers experience anxiety, low self-confidence, and gendered assumptions about STEM topics, which can transfer to their children and students.” Bell hopes to leverage the doll to reverse this existing narrative in classrooms.
“If the teachers are nervous and have low confidence with teaching kids that’s a huge thing because how are they gonna learn it? So, we created “Character Play Makes STEM Fun” to show how the teachers can make STEM fun in their classrooms within their dramatic play centers and use the dolls in their classrooms to show our young kids, these characters within these professions,” Bell said.