Seeing is Believing: Pathways to STEM Success
STEM job opportunities continue to be on the rise, but participation gaps based on race continue to persist. For example, the Latinx population only makes up 6% of the STEM workforce compared to 67% of their White counterparts. CLX members Amaris Alanis Ribeiro and Syda Segovia Taylor have been working to close the STEM opportunity gap for Black, Latinx, and youth of color since 2015.
Taking up the mantra, “You can’t be what you can’t see,” Syda and Amaris organized a citywide STEM Fair alongside national partners, showing young Black and brown students that they belong in the STEM field.
With funding from the Hive ChicagoFund at Chicago Community Trust, Amaris led “Pathways to STEM Success' ' with Chicago Botanic Garden and Project Exploration. In the early days of the Hive, our network wanted to find a way to showcase programming which led to creating pathways and then badging to give career insight to youth and help set them up for success. This project fits perfectly: nudging itself between program showcasing and career exposure. More importantly, it allowed our young people to explore and identify STEM futures of interest.
Birth and Legacy:
At first, the goal was to bring together national partners with pathway programs to document the importance of pathways. The Botanical Garden, where Amaris worked, had afterschool programming for those in middle school to undergrad. While exploring how they might shape and show pathways to those young people, this idea of a collective conversation amongst practitioners came about.
At a CLX meetup working group, Syda gave an update on a similar initiative that Project Exploration was taking on. After seeing the overlap, the two joined forces and the rest was history. The event became one of the largest STEM fairs to grace Chicago, aimed directly at serving 1000 teens — primarily Black and brown youth.
Success meant more than meeting the number goals; they wanted to spark and inspire. Every booth had hands-on activities that provided teens the opportunity to interact with professionals who looked like them.
The sparks of inspiration were captured through photo booths and recorded conversations. Surveys were filled out in the lobby by the attendees. Booth photos showed students displaying STEM pride with props, holding up prompts like “STEM is...”
When asking students of their impressions: A 9th grader from Phoenix Military Academy noted, “Most of the time you go places they only have one set of race of people there and then like today they have different, it’s like oh I can do better… If they can do it, I can do it too.” A senior from Bogan High school stated, “I never thought about engineering before but growing up I was really technical with my hands. I was never really … encouraged to go into the field until today and now I feel like I can really just… do it.”
There was also an impact at the educator level as individuals from different institutions exchanged and connected across state lines. Additionally, collective knowledge was put into frameworks such as the 3 Rs: Recruitment, Retention, and Release. Issues with diversity were discussed around racial disparities in the workplace, although many are still true today.
This project initiated a sustained partnership and friendship between Amaris and Syda. As a result of this magical partnership, a permanent bond was established. Professionally, Amaris is now on the Board for Organic Oneness but their friendship has spilled over work-lines. They haven’t stopped dreaming since.
Amaris and Syda’s story is unique but it’s also not. We have many network members working on the issue of racial equity in STEM learning and work.
Recent research from Dr. Bernadette Sanchez at the University of Illinois at Chicago reinforces and shows the importance of building youth social capital through mentorship and hands-on experience as a mechanism to support youth of color on their STEM learning journey. Exposure to a subject or career only heightens success when connected to mentorship and hands-on experience. Read more about the case study highlighting Latinx highschool and undergrad students here.