Guest Blog by Marla Wilson, Executive Director, STEM Careers Coalition
Representation matters. Black professionals are underrepresented in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields, while exciting opportunities in STEM careers continue to grow at a frantic pace. The CDF Freedom Schools® program is doing its part to help produce the next generation of leaders in STEM by introducing Black children to the wide world of possibilities in STEM careers.
Thanks to a generous grant from the Boeing Company, this summer we’re bringing STEM to CDF Freedom Schools classrooms across America through a new initiative called CDF Freedom to STEM. We’re committed to building interest and proficiency in STEM among CDF Freedom Schools scholars, 74% of whom are Black. We will make it possible for our scholars to truly envision themselves in successful STEM careers.
We’ve expanded our CDF Freedom Schools curriculum to include culturally responsive STEM books and hands-on STEM immersion activities, which we’ll debut this summer. Through CDF Freedom to STEM, scholars will experience the joy and promise of a career in STEM.
Many of the new content that our CDF Freedom Schools “scholars” will experience this summer was developed through a STEM Careers Coalition led by our friends at Discovery Education and in partnership with the Boeing Company. We’re therefore delighted to share this guest blog featuring Marla Wilson, Executive Director of the STEM Careers Coalition from Discovery Education.
—Kia Croom, CDF Director of Corporate Relations, and Dr. Kristal Moore Clemons, National Director of CDF Freedom Schools
More than 10 million children live in poverty in the United States, 71% of whom are people of color. These children don’t lack STEM intelligence– they lack STEM connections.
In my work as the Executive Director of the STEM Careers Coalition– the first-of-its-kind STEM initiative powered by corporate and community partners and anchored in schools by Discovery Education– I see students of all backgrounds exhibiting the natural skills needed to be STEM leaders and professionals.
The sheer numbers of untapped and underrecognized talent in our under-resourced communities undermines our collective success. There are potential geniuses in the so-called “hood,” who are very likely natural mathematicians and engineers but are being bypassed because of their race, gender, and zip code. These lost Einsteins don’t necessarily lack access to the content they need to achieve success in STEM. These students lack the infrastructure and support to contextualize that content and make it relevant.
The lack of connection impacts everyone, failing our collective commitment to diversifying STEM career pathways. Right now, in the United States, women comprise 47% of the total workforce yet are only 24% of the STEM workforce. And what about Black workers in STEM? That percentage has not increased since 2016, according to findings by Pew Research. Hispanic professionals are currently only 8% of the STEM workforce.
For the team supporting the STEM Careers Coalition– industry leaders such as Procter and Gamble (P&G), Microsoft, the Caterpillar Foundation, Boeing, the American Petroleum Institute (API), American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), and Chevron –diversity in STEM isn’t just some corporate or social trend, it’s an imperative for the future. Our primary goals are:
- To empower educators to teach STEM effectively in the classroom,
- To foster and promote equity and access to quality STEM education, and
- To build the next generation of solution seekers with intentional focus on racial and gender equity.
The STEM Careers Coalition helps connect students to STEM futures through a diverse array of relevant and standards-aligned content, all available at no-cost on STEMCareersCoalition.org and on Discovery Education’s K-12 learning platform. The resources are designed by curriculum experts to be integrated into educators’ lesson plans with ease, wherever learning is taking place, or to be picked up anytime as ready-to-use solutions. Additionally, Coalition members partner with school districts to provide access to critical STEM learning platforms and professional development for under-resourced schools across the United States. Taken together, the private sector funds unique and essential content that helps close access and funding gaps in education. This double-pronged approach creates, and helps sustain, a culture of STEM education that we know will benefit students in the long-term.
We need to, especially in education, better connect the dots between the inequities causing disparities. Black and Indigenous people of color (BIPOC) are not disadvantaged as a standard; society disadvantages them with unequal and unfair stereotypes, systems, and institutions that cause disparities.
I really do believe that STEM is the great equalizer. But turning that belief into a reality requires a collective narrative flip that bridges the STEM training and opportunity. Through partnerships between public and private institutions and deep-seeded commitments to racial and gender equity, we can see to it that every single student has the resources to reach their full potential and contribute to the global community.
Marla Wilson is the Executive Director of STEM Careers Coalition from Discovery Education. In this role, Wilson unites the business community to grow the STEM pipeline and prepare 10 million students for the future of work with no cost, standards-aligned, digital resources. Previously, Wilson worked as the Senior Director of the ‘Go Red for Women’ campaign for the American Heart Association and Executive Director for the Miami March of Dimes. Originally from Las Vegas, NV, Wilson holds a Bachelor of Communications from the University of Central Oklahoma where she studied broadcast and print journalism. Having been raised by a single father who dedicated his life to teach her the importance of diversity in culture, experience, and travel, Marla soon became compelled to do the same. Today, Wilson strives to make a difference in the lives of children and families globally. Whether consulting with philanthropists on how or being the driving force of change through 1 Percent Circle, the exclusive consulting group she founded to match celebrities with mission-related initiatives, Wilson commits herself to the advancement of those in need. Wilson is also the proud mother of twins, son Malik and daughter Mijani.