Supporting Black Youth in Entering STEM Fields

By: Yalinie Kulandaivelu

Designing a better world for Black women requires Black girls and women’s involvement in all STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) fields and levels of organizations and decision-making. Achieving this vision will require resources and support for Black youth as early as toddlers to post-doctoral and career-level stages.

Involving children in STEM activities and learning in the early years is one of the most important ways to set them on the path of considering STEM as a career. Age-appropriate activities during the early years and primary school ages ensures children identify STEM fields as interesting paths where they can see themselves excelling. Best practices for delivering these programs often involves instructors and leaders who look like the children in the programs. This is especially important for Black and Indigenous girls and youth.


In adolescence, continuation of STEM activities and learning is important to ensure teens consider STEM fields as options for post-secondary education. This should include  age-appropriate STEM activities and mentorship programs where students can engage with slightly older peers who have already entered post-secondary education in STEM fields. Mentorship partnered with accessible academic support programs in math, science, and technology, can help ensure that students have necessary support in place should they need clarifications. Finally, encouraging and offering opportunities to read, watch, and engage with media, news and non-fiction materials that involve STEM topics can grow their interest and curiosity.

 

In the post-secondary years, support is needed in terms of career resources such as networking and career events, resume building, application and grant writing, interview skills, and building positive work relationships. Research placements, work internships, and training opportunities must be shared and communicated to young adults. Information sessions on graduate education applications, pathways, and careers must be held. Furthermore, support for post-secondary coursework must be accessible and available and academic counselling must focus on opening up opportunities and ensuring students are able to achieve their goals. For students who may be first in the family entering post-secondary and/or are low-income, resources and support should be provided to address their needs.

 

At the career level and during graduate and postdoctoral studies, breaking barriers for Black women to enter and stay in their chosen occupation or field is vital. This will look different from institution to institution; however, they all start with listening to Black women’s experiences and creating solutions with them. Furthermore, if Black women and other racialized people are asked to be involved in breaking down these systemic barriers, they must be appropriately compensated.

 

Ensuring that Black girls and women can enter and remain in STEM fields requires support and resources that address all stages of the journey. All the  different factors that affect entry and retention in STEM fields should be addressed. Below, we have shared some of the local resources available. Many of these organizations also list additional resources for Black students:

  • Visions of Science offers weekly virtual STEM clubs for elementary and high school level students. Read more about youth experiences on their Youth column blog.
  • Black Boys Code aims to inspire young Black boys and men to become leaders in technology through developing digital literacy and computer competence.
  • Durham Black Students Network connects Black youth and young people across their academic and professional journeys with mentorship, support, and resources.
  • Engineering Outreach at Ontario Tech University offers virtual programs for elementary and high school aged students with summer programs, artificial intelligence programs, coding programs, leadership programs, and has streams for girls only.
  • Blueprint is a program by the University of Toronto that focuses on academic enrichment for Grade 10 and 11 Black students interested in STEM fields. 
  • Black Youth in STEM offers STEM activities and programs for Black youth in grades 1 to 8.
  • The National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) provides resources, support, and training to Black students from K-12 and beyond in STEM education. Local chapters are at universities across Canada and the USA.
  • University of Toronto Community of Support offers programs and resources for high school and post-secondary students planning for healthcare related careers including research, medical school, public health, physiotherapy, dentistry, and other health-related professions.