Spectrum Health partners with STEM program for minority youth

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Ovell Barbee Courtesy Spectrum Health

Spectrum Health is teaming up with Grand Rapids-based nonprofit STEM Greenhouse on a summer curriculum for 50 students wanting to improve their proficiency in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

Late last month, the STEM Greenhouse’s Sankofa STEM Summer Academy began offering a five-week hands-on education at Davenport University to 50 minority or vulnerable middle school children in Grand Rapids. Sankofa, a word with West African origins, points to the importance of remembering the past as a way to protect the future, the academy said.

“When we give more children of color access to science and math instruction, we greatly increase their chances of success in college and, ultimately, in a STEM career,” said Ovell Barbee, Spectrum Health senior vice president of human resources and chief diversity officer. “Spectrum Health and all of West Michigan will benefit from a more diverse STEM community.”

In addition to providing a quality curriculum, the program is unique in that it eliminates many of the barriers that separate vulnerable children from a quality education and successful career, including transportation issues, language barriers and a lack of exposure to college.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, African American children are the least likely racial group to enter technology fields. Closing the gaps in STEM achievement through programs like the Sankofa STEM Summer Academy, which focuses on learning opportunities outside the standard classroom environment and representation of diverse mentors and educators, helps to encourage student interest in technology fields.

“All children deserve to have the academic foundation, mentoring and role models they need to succeed in STEM,” said Dr. Keli Christopher, STEM Greenhouse founder and executive director. “When I was a girl, I had no science or math teachers that looked like me. But fortunately, there were opportunities for me in high school to visit historically Black colleges and universities where I could see a future for myself in STEM.”

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