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STEM Equity

NSF Grant to Help UC Davis Build STEM Camp Program for Black/African-American Girls

A California University has just received a $2.4 million grant to draw Black and African American girls into robotics and engineering. The funding from the National Science Foundation will enable the University of California Davis to do outreach through its Center for Integrated Computing and STEM Education (C-STEM).

The new Ujima Girls in Robotics Leadership (GIRL) Project is a free, hands-on engineering and robotics program designed to teach engineering and leadership in a culturally relevant environment to girls in middle and high school.

The Ujima GIRL Camp takes an existing program, C-STEM's GIRL/GIRL+ camps, and adds a cultural component for African American students. "Ujima" is a Swahili word for "collective work and responsibility," which, organizers explained, is an important principle in many Black/African American spaces.

The program will work with community colleges in the state and the Umoja Community Education Foundation, to recruit African American college students to lead each camp, develop curriculum and serve as mentors.

As program leaders noted, introducing girls to STEM activities in middle school and nurturing that interest through high school increases the likelihood that they'll stay in the field. The expectation is that by supporting Black girls' STEM skills in "identity-affirming, fun and supportive environments," access barriers will lower and engagement with STEM will persist.

The project is being led by an interdisciplinary team:

Cheng's vision is to build a "mentoring pipeline" that will keep participants involved from their first Ujima GIRL Camp through college. Ujima GIRL Camp alumni could return as assistant coaches when they reach high school and also participate in the GIRL+ Camp. GIRL/GIRL+ alumni in college can return as coaches. In addition, Cheng also wants to encourage participants to create their own Ujima GIRL clubs within their local schools, where they can share their experiences with other girls.

In the first three years, the program expects to host 48 Ujima GIRL and 48 GIRL+ camps statewide, nurturing about 2,000 students. If successful, the team hopes to increase that number and expand the program nationwide.

"We want to give students a life-changing experience and inspire them to go into college, post-secondary studies and careers in STEM," said Cheng, in a statement. "This program will help them make a real-world connection with math, because we want to give them the tools to be successful in their academic programs and learn in the years ahead."

"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," added Mustafaa. "I am hopeful about the mutually empowering benefit of this project for the participants, our research team, and everyone else involved."

"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 Aldredge.

The C-STEM Center is currently recruiting for a program manager for the project. Organizers hope to launch the first camps in summer 2022.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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