By Charlene Muhammad CHARLENEM
LOS ANGELES – The National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) launched its highly anticipated free Summer Engineering Experience for Kids (SEEK) program for elementary school children in the Hawthorne suburb of Los Angeles County on July 9.
Across the country, SEEK’s three-week camps began welcoming nearly 5,000 children in 16 cities in June. Its 17th program at Hawthorne’s Zela Davis Elementary School hosts 2nd-5th graders. The school, located approximately eight miles from South L.A., provides a Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) prep program during its regular school year.
SEEK’s mission is increase Black students’ aptitude in math and science, and their interest in pursuing STEM career fields, but it’s inclusive and open to anybody. During the day–long programs teachers, called mentors, engage students in interactive, team-based engineering projects.
“NSBE founded SEEK in 2007 with one program in Washington, D.C., and I’m excited to say this summer we’re in 16 different cities, so it’s a true testament to the program,” said Franklin Moore, SEEK’s founding director.
It’s since expanded to Ohio, California, Michigan, Louisiana, New York, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Georgia and Illinois with this summer marking the largest number of participants ever.
Mr. Moore said the secret to success is the program’s mentors–teachers who include established, successful professional engineers, mathematicians, and scientists, college students majoring in STEM studies, and high school student volunteers.
In the next 10 years, the STEM workforce is predicted to grow by 17 percent, while all other jobs are projected at only 10 percent, noted Dr. Karl Reid, executive director of NSBE.
Engineering is associated with some of the greatest achievements in the country such as air conditioning, the interstate highway system, not to mention the numerous industries spawned from the invention of the iPhone and iPad, Dr. Reid said.
“The National Academies says 85 percent of our income growth in this country is a result of technological change, but we don’t want our kids just to be consumers of technology. We want them to be producers of new technology. We want them to not only solve problems that exist today, we want them to solve future problems that don’t even exist,” Dr. Reid continued.
Engineering also changes the way people think and is a great way to train critical, analytical thinking, reasoning and problem solving, he continued.
“But we as a country are not producing enough. Only four percent of the engineering degrees awarded in this country are awarded to African Americans. Only about seven percent were awarded to Latinos in this country,” Dr. Reid stated.
In a past visit to Clark Atlanta University in Atlanta a few years ago Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan spoke to students at the invitation of an engineering student. His message was titled “Untying The Black College Student: The Master Has Come and He Has Need of These.
“That day I learned it was the last year engineering was going to be taught at Clark Atlanta; and when the teacher of engineering shook my hand, he said, ‘I went to the president and asked him not to stop engineering’, but he said ‘Oh, don’t worry. Leave engineering to White people.’” That same day at Clark, the School of International Relations shut down,” said Minister Farrakhan, who also completed a historic tour of Historically Black Colleges and Universities in the ‘Cotton South’ in 2012.
His tour included events at Alabama A&M University, Tennessee State University, LeMoyne-Owen College and University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff.
Minister Farrakhan challenged the students at Clark Atlanta as he did during his HBCU tour. “Don’t you come here to get some meaningless degree so you can put it on the wall to pacify grandmamma, or mama or daddy. You come here and challenge yourself to get a degree in something that will allow you to build a future for yourself and your people,” he said.
According to Dr. Reid, preparation and awareness are other reasons a gap exists. Young people in America don’t even know what engineering is, he said at a parent session before the beginning of this year’s camp in L.A.
Parents standing wall to wall in the packed school cafeteria laughed, but continued to pay close attention. Among them was Carla Drisdom, who enrolled her 4th and 5th grade children in the summer camp.
“I was so happy and really glad my children were involved, but really surprised that L.A. had not been included in their program,” Ms. Drisdom told The Final Call.
“I think this is a great step for our kids and I know it’s going to teach them a whole lot,” she said.
Over three weeks, students in L.A. will learn how to build a vehicle powered by gravity, explore the relationship between force and motion and the effects of weight and lift on a glider and build hydrogen powered fuel cell vehicles. On competition Friday’s, students receive awards based on oral presentations, artistic design and other categories.
“I’m always marveled at how we can pack the room with African American parents other than an athletic event,” Franklin Moore founder and director of SEEK Los Angeles told The Final Call. “They’re coming out on Thursday evening, after work, and this is for science, technology, engineering and math, so it speaks volumes of the crowd that was in attendance,” he said.