Full STEAM Ahead: ED Celebrates African American Excellence in STEAM Fields

“I have always liked math and science because, as a child, I struggled with reading. But … I close my eyes and can see the world in numbers.” This is what Kennea Carter, a student from D.C.’s E. L. Haynes Public Charter School, shared with the audience at the Full STEAM Ahead: Educational Summit on Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics held at the U.S. Department of Education’s (ED’s) headquarters. This summit, hosted by the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans, brought students and STEAM leaders together to celebrate African American excellence in STEAM fields and to help students learn how to enter them.

As a part of the celebration, Carter and her robotics team thrilled the audience with a demonstration of their robot’s ability to perform tasks. When asked how they became a team, the students said it was their robotics teacher, Shane Donovan, who told them about the opportunity and encouraged them to get involved. The Haynes pre-K through 12th-grade school was named after the first African-American woman to receive a doctorate in mathematics.

The summit also featured a panel of prominent African-American women leaders in STEAM fields: Joletta Patrick, manager of the Minority University Research and Education Program at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA); Tiera Guinn, senior at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and rocket structural design engineer for the Space Launch System at NASA; Korin Reid, senior data scientist at McKesson Health Solutions; and Janett Martinez, chief executive officer at Loomia. They shared their experiences in school and in their respective industries, answering students’ questions about choosing a particular STEAM field. Like Carter and her teammates, each panelist had teachers, parents, or mentors who significantly impacted their development and interest in their chosen fields.

STEAM panelists Joletta Patrick, Korin Reid, Janett Martinez, and Tiera Guinn

The panelists also had personal advice for the youths. For example, “Be prepared to be twice as good as your peers” and “Create a community of people who look like you to help navigate the obstacles and doubters.” The students, they asserted, must take steps to create their own success stories. This part of the program was very well received, with one audience member saying “You have just set free so many people here with your stories” and another commenting “This is one of the most amazing networking experiences for students we’ve had at the Department of Education.”

Kim Ford, deputy assistant secretary in the Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education, called on educators, advocates, and ED staff to continue to support students as they pursue their dreams for their life’s work and ensure that they know about all the options available to them within STEAM.

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos closed the program with a message of encouragement. Having earlier in the day addressed a group of schoolchildren at a screening of the film “Hidden Figures,” which  tells the story of the extraordinary African-American female mathematicians at NASA who helped launch the astronaut John Glenn into orbit, Secretary DeVos invoked the heroes of the story to inspire the students to succeed.

Secretary DeVos and students from St. Augustine Catholic School

Photo at the top: E.L. Haynes Public Charter and DC International schools’ robotics team

Molly Howlett is an intern in the Office of Communications and Outreach at the U.S. Department of Education.

All photos are by U.S. Department of Education photographer Paul Wood.  More photos from the event may be viewed at https://www.flickr.com/photos/departmentofed/albums/72157678556202214.

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