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Celebrate Black women making her-story in STEM careers

Celebrate Black women making her-story in STEM careers
Pictured left to right: Erika Anderson, Mechanical Engineer, Afua Bruce, Computer Engineer, and Dr. Rae Wynn-Grant, Large Carnivore Ecologist. Images Courtesy of the IF/THEN Collection

“I was born in an urban center, and I loved watching TV — in particular, nature shows. I wanted to do exactly what those nature show hosts did. However, I didn't necessarily see myself represented in that. I was so different from those TV hosts I saw.” – Dr. Rae Wynn-Grant, Large Carnivore Ecologist.

For children, there is affirmation in seeing people that look like them in the roles they might want when they grow up. However, African American girls dreaming of becoming scientists or engineers might have trouble finding role models with a background like their own. The National Science Foundation estimates less than 5% of degrees in engineering and approximately 8% of mathematics and computer science degrees were awarded to Black students receiving a bachelor's degree in 2020.

This Black History Month, let’s shine a light on African American women who have impacted and continue to make their mark in STEM fields.

The IF/THEN Collection is the largest free resource of its kind dedicated to increasing access to authentic and relatable images of women in STEM. This digital library boasts thousands of photos, videos and other assets that feature a wide variety of STEM careers. There are many Black women in STEM featured, including mechanical engineer Erika Anderson and large-carnivore ecologist Dr. Rae Wynn-Grant.

Video featuring Erika Anderson, Mechanical Engineer speaking about her job.

For example, here’s some of the media available in the collection for Afua Bruce, a Virginia computer engineer:

Resources like the IF/THEN Collection can be used by parents and teachers to celebrate Black History Month. However, the resources are especially powerful to capitalize on during informal STEM learning opportunities. Afterschool programs reach populations traditionally underrepresented in STEM careers. In fact, according to America After 3 PM, parents of Black and Latinx students report that their child’s afterschool program offers STEM learning at higher rates than parents of white students. The Virginia Partnership for Out-of-School Time works during Black History month and year-round to connect afterschool programs with resources and supports that engage underrepresented youth in STEM. This includes participating in the Million Girls Moonshot initiative, which shines a national spotlight on girls in STEM inspiring them to become builders, innovators, makers and problem solvers.

Here are VPOST’s top three picks of web media for parents and formal/informal educators to showcase African American women in STEM careers:

  • 13 Black Women in STEM You Should Know!: From Goldie Blox, this article shares the story of Black women from the past to the present day who have paved the way for Black girls. 
  • PBS LearningMedia: Women in Science Profile: Meet Dr. Felecia Davis in this video from WPSU Penn State’s “Women in Science Profiles” as she talks about computational textiles and more.  
  • Black Women in STEM Imagine Tomorrow: In this video from DiscoverE, Black women in STEM careers discuss how they overcame barriers to rise in the ranks, make groundbreaking discoveries and push the boundaries of who is included in the next generation of STEM innovators. 

More information about The Virginia Partnership for Out-of-School Time’s STEM initiative, including its partnership with Million Girls Moonshot, can be found on the organization’s homepage.

Virginia Partnership for Out-of-School Time, James Madison University