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UC Davis Uses $2.4 Million Grant to Create Program That Nurtures STEM Interest In Black Middle and High School Girls

The UC Davis Center for Integrated Computing and STEM Education (C-STEM) was granted $2.4 million by the National Science Foundation, and is taking steps to launch a program that will introduce engineering and robotics to more Black girls. The center hopes the program will lead to more personal and career interest in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

Young Black girls took part in the two week camp learning robotics, how to create websites, and mobile applications. (Aric Crabb/Bay Area News Group) (Photo by MediaNews Group/Bay Area News via Getty Images)

The university’s initiative, named the Ujima Girls in Robotics Leadership Project, intends to welcome middle and high school-age girls to the program’s inaugural camps in 2022. The project, which is free to students, will be a “hands-on” experience that teaches “engineering and leadership in a culturally relevant environment.”

“This is an exciting opportunity to further encourage the creativity, leadership and scientific genius of Black girls and young women in ways that many don’t have access to in their day-to-day schooling,” said Faheemah Mustafaa, assistant professor in the UC Davis School of Education and one of the initiative’s three project leaders. “I am hopeful about the mutually empowering benefit of this project for the participants, our research team, and everyone else involved.”

Based on 2019 census numbers, women make up 27 percent of the STEM workforce, compared to 73 percent of men, and Black women are still massively underrepresented in the field. In 2017, Black women only made up 2.5 percent of the science and engineering workforce.

According to a 2019 study at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis School of Science, Black girls and young women having STEM mentors and role models that look like them plays a major part in increasing their likelihood to remain in the field. “Women who feel like they belong are more likely to enter and stay in STEM, so lack of belonging may be one reason for women of color’s lack of representation,” said Eva Pietri, Ph.D., second author on the paper and assistant professor of psychology at IUPUI.

The Ujima Project intends to bridge the gap by recruiting Black college students to lead each Ujima GIRL and develop curriculum, with the long-term goal being to create a “mentoring pipeline” that students will want to remain involved with throughout their scholastic careers until they can become mentors in the program themselves and, eventually, move on to professional careers in the field.

“This grant will illuminate the talent that our Black girls already have inside them and provide a safe and nurturing environment for growth and development,” said project co-lead Teresa Aldredge, former board president of the Umoja Community Education Foundation and a senior advisor to the C-STEM Center. “I’m honored to be a part of this important endeavor for our community.”

UC Davis’ Ujima Girls in Robotics Leadership Project will host 48 Ujima GIRL camps statewide for its first three years, with hopes of national expansion in future years, depending on the program’s success.

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