You Got to Math Like an African

STEM

Entrepreneurs, engineers, and developers are emerging from Sub-Saharan African nations as though they are being churned out from assembly lines.

This is based on my anecdotal observations rather than any hard data, which I couldn’t find. But, why is it that so many Africans are absolutely slaying in STEM careers and degrees (science, technology, engineering, mathematics), while many African Americans seem to still lack the basic education, especially math skills, needed for science and engineering studies at the collegiate level?

Math Phobia Leads To…

 

I remember when I took my first course in biochemistry as a college freshman. The professor introduced a mathematical formula to calculate some biochemical process. He scribbled on the board so fast that several students (including myself) raised their hands and asked him to repeat the steps.

The professor huffed and said, “If you already understand the formula, you may leave class,” and half of the class walked out. The majority of those who left were foreign students. A good number of them, who I later became more acquainted over the course of the semester, were from African countries, predominately Nigeria.

The half that remained: us mathematically-cowed Americans.

Surely, because we as African Americans hail mostly from Sub-Saharan ancestry, there can’t be much of a genetic difference between us and Africans in our math and science capabilities. So, what gives?

…An Innumerate Nation

 

I asked Black Enterprise‘s Education Editor, Robin White-Goode, for insight.

In this country “we’re not taught math well,” she explains. “That’s because teachers are also not taught math well. And in urban communities, teachers tend to be more inexperienced and have higher burn-out rates.”

Robin referred me to an excellent piece in The New York Times, Why Do Americans Stink at Math?” The article makes the argument that the cause of innumeracy—the math equivalent of illiteracy—is school.

As Robin stated, the way we are taught math is the problem. According to the NYT article, “By focusing only on procedures— ‘Draw a division house, put 242 on the inside and 16 on the outside,’ etc.—and not on what the procedures mean, ‘I, We, You’ turns school math into a sort of arbitrary process wholly divorced from the real world of numbers.”

I suppose if you want to become a singer, actor, or an editor; a lack of math skills may make for some embarrassing moments, like not catching when you are given incorrect change at the register. However, math isn’t a prerequisite for those pursuits.

Yet rock-solid math and logic skills are imperative, for those who want to become engineers, developers, or the next Mark Zuckerberg.

Which is why, at Black Enterprise, we write a lot of content on STEM education. Technology and engineering degrees are near-guarantees for future career success and for empowering our community economically.

So, as the kids go back to school, make sure to stay on top of how they are taught math and the sciences. Attend school board meetings or rally, if you must. But, it is important for all of us of the African diaspora to demand that we are as well-educated in STEM as Africans.

 

 

 

You Got to Math Like an African

STEM

Entrepreneurs, engineers, and developers are emerging from Sub-Saharan African nations as though they are being churned out from assembly lines.

This is based on my anecdotal observations rather than any hard data, which I couldn’t find. But, why is it that so many Africans are absolutely slaying in STEM careers and degrees (science, technology, engineering, mathematics), while many African Americans seem to still lack the basic education, especially math skills, needed for science and engineering studies at the collegiate level?

Math Phobia Leads To…

 

I remember when I took my first course in biochemistry as a college freshman. The professor introduced a mathematical formula to calculate some biochemical process. He scribbled on the board so fast that several students (including myself) raised their hands and asked him to repeat the steps.

The professor huffed and said, “If you already understand the formula, you may leave class,” and half of the class walked out. The majority of those who left were foreign students. A good number of them, who I later became more acquainted over the course of the semester, were from African countries, predominately Nigeria.

The half that remained: us mathematically-cowed Americans.

Surely, because we as African Americans hail mostly from Sub-Saharan ancestry, there can’t be much of a genetic difference between us and Africans in our math and science capabilities. So, what gives?

…An Innumerate Nation

 

I asked Black Enterprise‘s Education Editor, Robin White-Goode, for insight.

In this country “we’re not taught math well,” she explains. “That’s because teachers are also not taught math well. And in urban communities, teachers tend to be more inexperienced and have higher burn-out rates.”

Robin referred me to an excellent piece in The New York Times, Why Do Americans Stink at Math?” The article makes the argument that the cause of innumeracy—the math equivalent of illiteracy—is school.

As Robin stated, the way we are taught math is the problem. According to the NYT article, “By focusing only on procedures— ‘Draw a division house, put 242 on the inside and 16 on the outside,’ etc.—and not on what the procedures mean, ‘I, We, You’ turns school math into a sort of arbitrary process wholly divorced from the real world of numbers.”

I suppose if you want to become a singer, actor, or an editor; a lack of math skills may make for some embarrassing moments, like not catching when you are given incorrect change at the register. However, math isn’t a prerequisite for those pursuits.

Yet rock-solid math and logic skills are imperative, for those who want to become engineers, developers, or the next Mark Zuckerberg.

Which is why, at Black Enterprise, we write a lot of content on STEM education. Technology and engineering degrees are near-guarantees for future career success and for empowering our community economically.

So, as the kids go back to school, make sure to stay on top of how they are taught math and the sciences. Attend school board meetings or rally, if you must. But, it is important for all of us of the African diaspora to demand that we are as well-educated in STEM as Africans.

 

 

 

Detroit Engineer: Turn Buses Into Rolling Tech Teaching Labs

Detroit

An Amazon engineer hailing from Detroit has a novel idea for that city’s unused school buses: turn them into mobile tech labs.

Thomas Phillips presented his idea at last month’s Hack the Central District Cultural Innovation Conference (Hack the CD) in Seattle, according to The Detroit Metro Times. The Aspire Tech Bus would be a school bus modified into a mobile tech lab. In this lab, students will work on coding projects as an actual software development team.

The students will learn basic and advanced topics in full stack Web development: HTML, CSS, and JavaScript for front-end development, and NodeJS and ExpressJS for back-end development. Students will also be taught to build a website and a server from scratch. Furthermore, Phillips’ vision extends to teaching career skills as well, such as project management skills, how to create LinkedIn profiles, and how to establish professional email addresses.

The planned curriculum includes two 16-week courses, in total. The mobile lab students will receive a Raspberry Pi computer. By the end of the program, they will have a portfolio of coding projects to present to potential employers.

“I envision this project as a ‘high-tech, voc-tech,’” he says, as giving students high-tech skills before college will better position them for success. “Some of them will choose to pursue their education further at the college/ university level, others will venture into the entrepreneurial sector. Both of these have far reaching implications that reverberate across the world,” said Phillips at the event.

Phillips’s project has already attracted attention, and he will soon launch a Kickstarter campaign for more support. “I want to drive around to different locations in the city and teach web development or other advanced STEM programming concepts to kids in Detroit,” he said in an interview. His goal is to eventually roll out his program to other underserved communities and school districts.

Meet The Game Designer Creating Video Games with Social Impact

Lindsay Grace is an expert on games. He is a game developer; he teaches game development at American University; and is founding director of the Game Lab and Studio at the university.

Grace is also a programmer and artist.

He does not just teach and make any games, though. He designs games with the purpose of having social impact.

“Most of what I do is around social impact gaming—persuasive play. [It’s] game design to change people’s interests, activities, opinions, [and provide] new perspectives,” says Grace.

One such game Grace designed addresses prejudice. The game is called Black Like Me.

The game involves matching tiles by color, but the player is deliberately provided a limited color selection.

“If you discriminate by color, you can’t win the game,” he explains.

Another one of Grace’s games is Big Huggin’, the first affection game of its kind.  Players hug a 30-inch teddy bear to get through obstacles on the screen. It is a counter to many of the violent games on the market.

Grace has developed and released over 20 games. He has an M.S. degree in computer information systems from Northwestern University, and an M.F.A. in electronic visualization from the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Art and Design.

As founding director of the American University Game Lab and Studio, Grace oversees over $450,000 in federal contracts for game development. They are working on a project that takes the engagement principals of game design and applies them to the consumption and the production of news.

The Game Lab and Studio has recently released a game solution for the clinical treatment of anxiety for the National Institute of Mental Health.

He is also focused on the underrepresentation of minority developers in the gaming industry. Grace has participated in a number of diversity summits that have sought to increase minority participation in gaming.

Grace is also the vice president of The Global Game Jam, a non-profit that runs the largest gaming making event in the world. Over 36,000 participants across 93 countries have just a weekend to produce a digital and non-digital game.

 

Nearly 40% of Minority Engineers in Tech Say They’ve Experienced Bias in the Workplace

african american engineer in blue hard hat and holding blueprints

Image: File

According to a recent study conducted by diversity recruitment platform Jopwell, 36% of surveyed minority engineers in the tech industry say they’ve experienced some form of workplace bias.

Of the 300 black, Latino/Hispanic and Native American engineers polled, 69% indicated they had experienced racial bias, 16% said gender and 11% said sexuality.

“The interesting thing for us is that most of this was confirmation for what we were expecting,” said Ryan Williams, president and co-founder of Jopwell. “We knew about the issues minorities were facing in terms of lacking access and exposure in technology. But turning these anecdotes we had into a study was really eye opening for us and showed us what we knew to be true.”

[RELATED: Howard University Introduces D.C Kids to Robot and NASA Scientists and Engineers]

Jopwell was started in the summer of 2014 by Williams and his colleague Porter Braswell in an effort to help companies hire minority talent. After connecting as employees at Goldman Sachs, Williams and Braswell  recognized their unique position on Wall Street and how a majority of other ethnic minorities weren’t afforded the same access and exposure.

“When the conversation occurs throughout the country in terms of lack of diversity it’s hard to pinpoint which aspect is really challenged,” said Braswell regarding diversity’s expansive definition, which includes race/ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, age and more. “At Jopwell, we focus on one aspect which is black, Hispanic, and Native Americans. So Jopwell offers solutions specifically for that demographic and part of the success of Jopwell, and the reason for companies like us, is that we are very targeted with the communities we serve.”

In addition to 36% of engineers having experienced workplace bias, 85% agreed that a fair workplace will include people from all races and 70% agreed their company can be doing more to promote multicultural understanding.

“We’ve seen some progress in the workplace in recent years, but there is still unconscious bias that can manifest within organizations,” added Williams. “There are a number of tools that companies can use to counter workplace bias—everything from quantifiable performance standards to bias training to technology-driven platforms.”

 

Nearly 40% of Minority Engineers in Tech Say They’ve Experienced Bias in the Workplace

african american engineer in blue hard hat and holding blueprints

Image: File

According to a recent study conducted by diversity recruitment platform Jopwell, 36% of surveyed minority engineers in the tech industry say they’ve experienced some form of workplace bias.

Of the 300 black, Latino/Hispanic and Native American engineers polled, 69% indicated they had experienced racial bias, 16% said gender and 11% said sexuality.

“The interesting thing for us is that most of this was confirmation for what we were expecting,” said Ryan Williams, president and co-founder of Jopwell. “We knew about the issues minorities were facing in terms of lacking access and exposure in technology. But turning these anecdotes we had into a study was really eye opening for us and showed us what we knew to be true.”

[RELATED: Howard University Introduces D.C Kids to Robot and NASA Scientists and Engineers]

Jopwell was started in the summer of 2014 by Williams and his colleague Porter Braswell in an effort to help companies hire minority talent. After connecting as employees at Goldman Sachs, Williams and Braswell  recognized their unique position on Wall Street and how a majority of other ethnic minorities weren’t afforded the same access and exposure.

“When the conversation occurs throughout the country in terms of lack of diversity it’s hard to pinpoint which aspect is really challenged,” said Braswell regarding diversity’s expansive definition, which includes race/ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, age and more. “At Jopwell, we focus on one aspect which is black, Hispanic, and Native Americans. So Jopwell offers solutions specifically for that demographic and part of the success of Jopwell, and the reason for companies like us, is that we are very targeted with the communities we serve.”

In addition to 36% of engineers having experienced workplace bias, 85% agreed that a fair workplace will include people from all races and 70% agreed their company can be doing more to promote multicultural understanding.

“We’ve seen some progress in the workplace in recent years, but there is still unconscious bias that can manifest within organizations,” added Williams. “There are a number of tools that companies can use to counter workplace bias—everything from quantifiable performance standards to bias training to technology-driven platforms.”

 

In the News: Flint, Michigan

There has been a lot of recent news surrounding the Flint Water Crisis in Detroit, Michigan. Early last year, the Environmental Protection Agency was made aware of the toxic levels of lead that had leaked into the water after Flint made the Flint River its primary source of water due to a financial state of emergency, but they made no effort to make the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality treat the water.

This led to poisoning, sickness, and the possibility of long-term neurological damage in children. African Americans make up a whopping 56.6% of the city’s population. The crisis is now being referred to by many people as both genocide and environmental racism, and several communities and leaders are calling on Governor Rick Snyder to be arrested.

Here are three recent updates on Flint:

1. Hillary Clinton has made Environmental Racism a Campaign Issue
At the Democratic presidential debate on Jan. 17, Hillary Clinton responded, “the Flint Water Crisis” when asked what issue the candidates felt had been neglected during the debate. The following day, on Martin Luther King. Jr. Day, she continued to voice her anger. At an event in South Carolina, Clinton stated, “We would be outraged if this happened to white kids, and we should be outraged that it’s happening right now to black kids.” While the media have debated whether or not Clinton is trying to capitalize on a political moment or rather to help the community to fight their battle and raise awareness to the issue, her outrage has sparked much-needed attention on Flint.

[Related: 5 Ways You Can Help the Water Crisis in Flint, Michigan]

2. Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) Chairman Urges House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. Chairman to Have Governor Rick Snyder Testify During Upcoming Hearing.
On Jan. 28, CBC Chairman G.K. Butterfield sent a letter to the oversight and government reform chairman, urging him to call upon Michigan’s Governor, Rick Snyder, to testify during the latest court hearing. The letter held, “The harm experienced by the residents of Flint is irreversible and multi-generational. The governor has admitted harm, numerous missteps, and seemingly has a blatant disregard for the care of the citizens of Flint. Governor Snyder has been a central figure in the decision-making process that led to the water crisis and, to that end, should be invited to testify before the Committee.” Earlier in January, the CBC also sent President Obama a letter, asking for a thorough investigation of all entities that had oversight in the Flint water crisis, in addition to urging for immediate funding to assist the city in its recovery.

3. National Society of Black Engineers urges officials to make things right in Flint.
Neville Green, the national chair of the National Society of Black Engineers, holds that cultural responsibility is extremely important, and that the elected officials in Flint, Mich., have failed the community, as well as threatening their safety. Who did this impact the most? Its youth. the NSBE is actively engaging in donations, educating the community on water safety, and coming up with new solutions with engineers. The NSBE is challenging all civil leaders, black organizations, and student movements to join in the support of the movement, removing the dangerous substances and restoring the community’s basic right of access to clean water.

What Does an Engineer Look Like?

What does an engineer look like? Isis Anchalee Wenger is a platform engineer at a company called OneLogin who appeared in a recruiting ad for her company.  According to reports, the ad sparked some somewhat sexist comments across social media that questioned if a female engineer could possibly look like Wenger.

[RELATED: Female NASCAR Engineer Promotes Education]

In response to the comments, she launched #ILookLikeanEngineer on Twitter to show the world that, despite stereotypes, engineers can also look like her.

“My stories have become such a source of inspiration for so many people. I am now developing a team to build out www.ilooklikeanengineer.com, a safe platform for us all to continue to share our stories and experiences relating to diversity issues in tech,” wrote Wenger in the blog Coffeelicious.

 Take a look below at these women of color who are also proud engineers.


BE Modern Man: From Artists to Aerospace Engineers and More

In an effort to turn the conversation about young black men into something positive instead of something tragic, BlackEnterprise.com is highlighting the accomplishments of black men throughout the country with BE Modern Man.

Each week for the next six weeks, we will be celebrating the essence, image and works of young black men who have found a purpose, are on a mission or leaving a positive legacy as only they can. The goal of this curated collective is to globally shift the standard narrative regarding men of color and project the positive perception that is a common reality to those within the Black Enterprise community and throughout the world. Because as the 100 men featured in our complete series know, and as young black men everywhere know – It’s our normal to be extraordinary.

This week’s Modern Man ambassador is “The Technology Specialist” Randolph Brown. This chief technology officer at Jopwell talks about the events that led to him becoming a self-described “Techie.”

You’ll also enjoy reading about

Emmy Award-winning violinist Damien Escobar, who went from playing in NYC subways to playing for President Obama

“The Sole Man” Emeka Anen, who turned down a scholarship to Top 10 MBA programs to start a successful business

“The Rocket Scientist” Isaac Matthews, who surpasses expectations every day as an aerospace engineer

“The Architect”Olalekan Jeyifous, who’s had his art shown in the Studio Museum of Harlem

Be sure to check out new profiles every week and share your comments and opinions below. And keep abreast of updates and special Web exclusive events via social media by following @BlackEnterprise and hashtag #BEModernMan.

SEEK Provides Free Summer Engineering Program in 16 Cities

(Image: Thinkstock)

The National Society of Black Engineers has announced the dates and locations for its 2015 Summer Engineering Experience for Kids program, or SEEK. Founded in 2007, SEEK is the nation’s largest summer engineering program geared toward African American pre-college students.

SEEK participants engage in team-based, competitive engineering design activities and learn science, technology, engineering and math concepts under the guidance of SEEK mentors: NSBE college student members from across the U.S. The ultimate goal of the program is to increase the number of college engineering students and engineering professionals among African Americans, a community starkly underrepresented in this field.

[Related #BESMART: Check Out This Special Portal for Minority Students, Educators and Parents]

Neville Green, NSBE’s national chair, said in a release that “Increasing the STEM proficiency of black students in grades 4 through 8 is a must for NSBE to achieve its primary goal, which is to produce 10,000 black engineers annually in the U.S. by 2025.” Green is a chemical engineering senior at the City University of New York. “Expansion of SEEK is a major part of our plan to reach that number.”

The program is expanding into four new cities: Birmingham, Alabama; Boston; Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; and Los Angeles.

The summer 2015 SEEK program has been announced as follows:

Current Cities Start Date End Date
Atlanta, Ga. June 8 June 26
Birmingham, Ala. June 15 July 3
Boston, Mass. July 13 July 31
Chicago, Ill. July 6 July 24
Denver, Colo. (Site 1) July 13 July 31
Denver, Colo. (Site 2) June 15 July 3
Detroit, Mich. July 20 August 7
Harrisburg, Pa June 8 June 26
Houston, Texas June 8 June 26
Jackson, Miss. June 8 June 26
Los Angeles, Calif. July 13 July 31
New Orleans, La. June 8 June 26
Oakland, Calif. June 22 July 10
Philadelphia, Pa. July 20 August 7
San Diego, Calif. June 29 July 17
Thibodaux, La. July 13 July 31
Washington, D.C. July 13 July 31

More information about SEEK is available at www.nsbe.org/seek. To learn more about NSBE, visit www.nsbe.org.