Alabama’s Hidden History: Stillman getting students involved with STEM

African Americans are finding their places within the STEM industry, but there’s still a long way to go. As the field expands and grows, Stillman College is ensuring minority students can succeed in science, technology, engineering and math.

African Americans only represented 9% of STEM workers in the U.S. in 2018, according to a Pew Research study.

That lack of diversity pushed Stillman College to create the Black Male Initiative as an introduction to the in-demand field.

Lt. Gen. Willie J. Williams Institute for Leadership, Education Equity, and Race Relations in America Executive Director Demarcus Hopson serves as BMI’s adviser. He said he knows representation matters, and when students see people like themselves in an industry or business, they’re more likely to succeed and go after that job, business or venture.

“We know that diversifying the areas of STEM for us, especially in West Alabama, is important because we want to be able to supply the workforce with qualified individuals who can fulfill the job need in the industry currently available now and what will become available in the future,” Hopson said.

With the support of the Alabama Power Foundation, Stillman College’s Black Male Initiative received a $100,000 grant to help jump-start the program.

Events like the 2022 Dr. Truider Harris Scholars Bowl are a way to get students involved in STEM.

The University of Alabama, Shelton State Community College, Alabama A&M and Bishop State Community College competed earlier this year, showcasing their scholarly knowledge of African American history.

“The Scholars Bowl gives us all an opportunity to learn more about our heritage and more about those who shaped black history,” said Shelton State competitor Dariana Chambers.

Takeyia Anderson competed alongside Chambers in the Scholars Bowl, and said she’s interested in STEM as a career possibility.

“I’m studying to be in STEM, but we need more diversity for our Black people so we can be recognized in STEM and so that little kids can see themselves in us,” Anderson said.

The winning team, for the second year in a row, was Alabama A&M. The team was presented with its trophy at the Wakanda Ball in early February.

Wakanda is a fictional African nation inside the Marvel superhero universe, known and celebrated for its technological superiority and major scientific advancements.

Wakanda Ball Planning Staff Leandra Frank said she wanted to ensure Black students know that there are so many opportunities out there for them.

“It’s not one lane for them to go into and that they have to know. We need Black scientists, we need Black mathematicians,” Frank said. “We need to see that representation. That’s what this was all about, making sure they knew there are so many possibilities, and we want to show you all the ways we can represent that right here.”

All proceeds from the Wakanda Ball went toward scholarships, student-centered programs and needs-based requests impacting minority students at the University of Alabama.

Wakanda Ball attendee Olivia Glenn said as a graduate of the university, it’s important that they put on events that support students.

“It’s needed,” she said. “It’s important that we are able to have fun, look the part and do it for a great cause.”

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