Bay Area STEM Fair & Exhibition This Sat March 1

SEMLink4thSFSTEMFair 4th Annual San Francisco Bay Area Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Career Fair and Exhibition at the Laney College Student Center

SEM Success


Crystallography Pioneer Mentored Other History Makers

Physicist Donald Anderson Edwards not only made significant contributions to his field, he mentored others who did likewise:

  • Joseph McNeill – a engineering physics major was one of the Greensboro Four . It should be noted that Franklin McCain, another member of the Greensboro Four, was also a STEM major(dual degrees in chemisty and biology).
  • Dwight Davis – is a distinguished cardiologist “who has played a leading role in medical education at Pennsylvania State University for almost 25 years.”
  • Ronald McNair became the second African-American astronaut to fly on the Space Shuttle. His plan to be the first human to record an original piece of music in space was cut short by the Challenger explosion.

Culture, Math and Music

There’s an insightful quote from STEM advocate Kareem Abdul Jabbar

This may come as a shock to a lot of kids, but music and math are intimately related. Great minds have been discussing the relationship for centuries. Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz, who co-discovered calculus, probably explained the relationship best when he said, “Music is the pleasure the human soul experiences from counting without being aware that it is counting.” Music rhythms are mathematical patterns. When you hear a song and your body starts moving with it, your body is doing math.

The Official Website of Kareem Abdul Jabbar

The connection between math and music is a key to STEAM. However, while STEAM is important,  it’s not a panacea. In America there are broader cultural issues which impact people of color disproportionately. In another article on Kareem’s site Segway inventor Dean Kamen touches on a very important point:

“To think that it’s a supply problem or that it’s an education problem is ridiculous,” Kamen said.

Undermining efforts to promote interest in STEM education is a culture that places sports stars and celebrities on pedestals, but makes scientists and engineers the butt of jokes, he added.

This is especially true in underserved minority communities, said basketball superstar Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, a sports legend in his own right.

“They see themselves only being able to be successful in the area of sports or entertainment,” Abdul-Jabbar said during a panel discussion at the summit. “If they can’t be Jay-Z or LeBron James, they don’t think they can be successful.”

Changing that perception requires parents, educators, media, and the business community holding up scientists and engineers as role models, instead of celebrities and professional athletes.

After all, there’s a much higher chance their students will go pro in tech than in basketball.

More Opportunities to Turn Pro in Science Than in the NBA

STEM needs a more diversity in general and the Arts/STEAM can help with that. In addition, we can benefit by expanding our awareness of how important STEM is in our daily lives.


Early Exposure To STEM Workplaces Is Vital

A study released last week talks about how to build interest in STEM fields:

“Students don’t learn enough about STEM careers unless their parents work in STEM areas, and the messages they receive from parents, teachers and counselors frequently fail to address how students think about and evaluate potential career paths,” said lead researcher Karen K. Myers, an associate professor of communication at the University of California, Santa Barbara, in a statement released to coincide with the paper. “Once students get a detailed picture of what it’s like to work in one of these jobs, it can motivate them to overcome difficult obstacles and adopt a STEM job as a goal.”
Even students from high socioeconomic backgrounds whose parents were college educated in non-STEM fields indicated that they depended on their connections with people outside of their immediate family to provide instrumental information about STEM careers. Students with insular family networks without a STEM career insider, or students from low socioeconomic communities would likely have less access to information that could generate their interest in STEM careers.”

This is yet another reason why it takes a village.

Getting Back In The Game

One barrier to STEM interest in communities of color is the perception that the fields are  culturally foreign and boring. Becoming aware of the African roots of gamification an increasingly important STEM building block may be one way to help correct that misunderstanding. We are not new to this game!

Games are not only fun and useful in teaching, they are also profoundly important in various fields of study including STEM because of game theory:

Eight game-theorists have won the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences, and John Maynard Smith was awarded the Crafoord Prize for his application of game theory to biology.

Game theory has come to play an increasingly important role in logic and in computer science. Several logical theories have a basis in game semantics. In addition, computer scientists have used games to model interactive computations. Also, game theory provides a theoretical basis to the field of multi-agent systems.

Separately, game theory has played a role in online algorithms.


Owari, the oldest game in the world belongs to the Mancala family of games found throughout Africa(and now the world). Some believe it is over 5000 years old, nobody disputes that it is at least 1300  years old. It continues to be mined for practical insights. Ron Eglash’s African Fractals book looks at how and why the game was developed and also explores the relationship between Owari and cellular automata. He has not been alone:

It is a strange anomaly that the newest electronic marvel – the Digital Computer – has been programmed to play the oldest counting game. Engineers and mathematicians who have been developing a mechanical brain are fascinated by the manner in which this simple “game of intelligence” enables them to watch the evolution of automatic thinking.

Games Museum

Understanding the specific connections between culture and STEM can not only help engage folk, but may lead to new developments.

STEM Is Hard But FUN!

As will all fields, enjoyment is important. The video below shows many people having a good time including one young man who uses an everyday analogy of a radio station to explain a signal processing system for astronomy. He explicitly states that fun is a requirement.

The Virginia-North Carolina Alliance includes nine partner institutions, including four HBCUs. The program has been funded by the National Science Foundation since 2007. During this period enrollment in STEM majors at the nine partner institutions has increased by 39 percent. The number of students who graduated with degrees in STEM fields is up 67 percent.

A Proven Track Record In Increasing Black Students In STEM Fields

This information was on an excellent list of STEM resources in the Journal of Blacks In Higher Education

Black Greek STEM Leadership

In 1911, The Black Apollo Hero Heru of Science Ernest Everett Just, two science majors(who went on to get advanced degrees) along with another Howard student founded the first black greek fraternity at an HBCU – Omega Psi Phi.


That was a great start for STEM leadership and it made me wonder which black greek organizations produce the most STEM graduates? @OMEGAPSIPHI @NPHC1930

The Power of the Village

In her MIT MLK Legacy speech by Physics and Nuclear Science & Engineering major Margo Batie

illustrates what the village can accomplish. In the last post it was mentioned STEM is hard, that you have to be prepared and that it takes a village. This young lady shows what it takes to prepare and excel in a demanding, competitive environment. Her success is rooted in an exceptionally strong STEM village(the subject of a future post). However they get it, young people need a strong village to excel in STEM.