Last night I read 2 interesting blog posts about broadening participation of underrepresented populations in STEM by DN Lee (blogger for the Urban Scientist on the Scientific American network of blogs–which I love! You can also find her on @dnlee5).
Especially relevant to me–a white, well meaning soccer mom (point of clarification–I play soccer)–was Lee’s take on how non-minority allies can help minority students stay engaged in science and technology classes. In Broadening Participation in STEM–Advice for Allies, she advises that when engaging people from different backgrounds it comes down to making the educational experience both relevant and welcoming.
I think I can do relevant, and I know that I can do welcoming–though it might be through trial and error. Lee points out that both relevance and welcoming “are not universal concepts.” An anecdote that Lee related about an unwelcoming college professor reminded me of the one and only programming class that I took in college. I still cringe remembering the teacher whose stated objective was “to weed out the people who can’t handle computer science”. He rolled his eyes and derided someone who once asked what a “boolean” was. How many people with no previous programming experience would know that?
This is particularly interesting to me because I’m trying to figure out ways to increase the diversity of my robotics club at the high school. One of my favorite things about Benson Polytechnic High School is that it is more diverse than any other high school in Portland Public School District. With demographics split pretty evenly between white, black, Hispanic and Asian students, Benson provides a rich mixture of cultures and ethnicity you just don’t find in most of our city’s high schools (the suburbs around here tend to be more diverse than the urban schools). That said, our robotics club is overwhelmingly white and male.
With that in mind, I’ve been looking for resources to figure out how our club can be more welcoming and relevant to students with backgrounds different from my own. Here is one organization I have found that seems to be doing a great job of making computer science both relevant and welcoming to African American girls in the Bay Area.
I’m so inspired after discovering this (new to me) organization, Black Girls Code. Based in San Francisco, founder Kimberly Bryant started Black Girls Code in 2011 as a way to ” remold the complexion” of the software industry by inspiring more young black girls to get into computer programming. After school programs and workshops using a curriculum based on Scratch, Ruby and Python make coding fun and accessible to middle school aged (and even younger) girls and give them a taste for the creativity and innovative thinking involved in programming. I love that they start with languages that have a low-barrier entry for understanding in order to practically guarantee students’ success. Additionally, through a partnership with Rocket 21 (a networking site for teens and tweens to learn more about their futures) they are helping connect the girls with mentors in computer science professions.
Black Girls Code also features the voices of the girls who participate in their trainings and workshops. Read this wonderful blog post by 12 year old “future code ninja”, Kai.
From up here in Portland I am eager to see how the programs of Black Girls Code evolve. While looking for anyone doing similar work around here, I can start making a difference immediately by becoming more welcoming and making the learning relevant to students from all cultures and backgrounds who want to engage in STEM. I’d love your comments on how I can be most successful with this!