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Sankofa STEM Summer Academy Knocks Down Educational Barriers

Stem Greenhouse

A new STEM-based summer program is taking a thoughtful approach to bridging systemic gaps in education.

The Sankofa STEM Summer Academy is a five-week, hands-on program housed at Davenport University. In partnership with Spectrum Health and STEM Greenhouse, it's educating 50 minority or vulnerable middle school children in the areas of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

"All children deserve to have the academic foundation, mentoring and role models they need to succeed in STEM,” said STEM Greenhouse Founder and Executive Director Keli Christopher, Ph.D. “When I was a girl, I had no science or math teachers that looked like me. But fortunately, there were opportunities for me in high school to visit Historically Black Colleges and Universities where I could see a future for myself in STEM.”

Christopher, who is one of three Black women in the world to hold a Ph.D. in agricultural engineering, said she chose to host the program at a university to give students exposure to areas of higher education. Busses will be available to transport students to and from the campus and meals will be provided for breakfast and lunch. In addition to more traditional curriculum, the education series will feature guest speakers of color and field trips. 

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, African-American youth are the least likely racial group to enter technology fields. Christopher said without representation of professionals of color in STEM, it's often hard for students of color to connect interest or confidence in STEM studies.

"Without those role models students don’t often feel those spaces are safe for them," she explained.

Sankofa is a word with West African origins and points to remembering the past as a way to protect the future. During the program, students will be separated into groups named after ancient African and South American innovators in STEM.

"Often times children of color are shown scientists and images of white men...We want children to know that people of color have been innovators in STEM since the beginning, whether it’s the Kush people in Egypt or the civilizations in Mali,” Christopher said.

Academy members were selected on a "first come, first serve" basis. Christopher said she hopes to expand the academy to 100 students next year. 

To learn more about STEM Greenhouse educational programs, click here.

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