Dwaun Warmack, A. James Hicks, Claudia Rankins and Dwyane Smith

Dwaun Warmack, president of Harris-Stowe State University; A. James Hicks, program officer at the National Science Foundation, Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation; Claudia Rankins, program officer at National Science Foundation, HBCU-Undergraduate Program; and Dwyane Smith, provost at Harris-Stowe State University.

Harris-Stowe State University recently collaborated with the National Science Foundation HBCU Undergraduate Program (HBCU-UP) to examine opportunities to advance the agenda for African Americans in STEM through the Spark the Mind Conference.  More than 500 participants engaged with panelists and some of the nation’s top STEM experts over two days to examine STEM education from a pipeline perspective: K-12, college level, and professional STEM interventions and strategies.

“We had various voices at the table, including African-American elementary, middle, high school and college students, discussing the impact of STEM on them and how to encourage their peers,” said Dwyane Smith, Harris-Stowe provost and convener of the Spark the Mind Conference. 

For many participants, hearing the students sharing their STEM experiences was inspirational. 

“I appreciated learning about the different students and their passion for STEM,” said Rosalind Norman with GatewayGIS. “The young students were phenomenal.”

NASA aerospace engineer Aprille Ericsson, the first African-American female to receive a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from Howard University and the first African-American female to earn a Ph.D. in engineering at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, kicked off the conference sharing her personal narrative on how a nurturing community helped in her extraordinary success. 

“It is important to inspire the next generation,” said Ericsson. “I had people around me that said not to give up.” She challenged the audience to repeat her mantra: “I will persist until I succeed.” 

STEM Scholars from Harris-Stowe and Missouri State University presented their undergraduate research through poster sessions throughout the conference.

STEM Trailblazer Awards were given to Claudia Rankin, program officer at the National Science Foundation HBCU-UP, and A. James Hicks, program officer at the National Science Foundation Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP). Over the years the LSAMP program is responsible for graduating more than 500,000 underrepresented students with STEM degrees.   

“It is really my pleasure to serve the waning years of my career supporting HBCUs and all they do,” Rankins said in accepting her award.

Hicks reminded the audience of his journey, and that success in STEM can occur no matter an individual’s background. “We are getting the word out that science and engineering is possible,” Hicks said. “It is possible for you like as it was for me, a little boy from Jackson Mississippi. If I can come from meager beginnings so can you.”

The featured keynote on Friday was Christopher Emdin, a vocal expert in science education for the urban, hip-hop generation. He is an associate professor at Columbia University in New York and serves as the Minorities in Energy Ambassador for the Department of Energy. His approach to retaining black minds in STEM is fusing learning with rhyming. 

He also facilitated a panel on African-American men in STEM. Carol Daniel, of CBS-KMOX Radio, served as a moderator for the African-American women in STEM panel.   

Local panelists included Cheryl Watkins-Moore, director of the STEM Entrepreneurial Inclusion Initiative at BioSTL; Kendall Norris, CEO of the Global Leadership Forum; Isaac Butler, vice president of Diversity, St. Louis College of Pharmacy; and Chantel Mason, STEAM and PBL teacher, Webster Groves School District. 

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