By Pat Andrews-Keenan, Rolling Out
For 44 years, Kenneth Hill has championed the importance of STEM education for children of color. Realizing that they needed more encouragement, to both believe in their inherent abilities, and to stave off the sometimes taunts of their classmates that they were being “too White,” Hill created the Detroit Area Pre-College Engineering Program (DAPCEP) in 1976. The one hard and fast requirement for the free program was that parents had to actively engage, alongside their students. The program, which operates within Detroit Public Schools, to this day has seen thousands of students raise, and exceed, their expectations with careers in the STEM fields.
Intent on retirement, Hill came home to his native Chicago in 2009, but seeing the gaping need within the school system he once again jumped into the fray and launched Chicago Pre-College Science and Engineering (ChiS&E). And because his reputation had proceeded him, Chase and the National Science Foundation signed on as supporters. The current partnership, with ChiS&E and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Colleges of Education and Engineering and Department of Mathematics, drew six students and their parents that first year. By 2017, that number grew to include a least one parent and one child in over 270 schools, and today over 500 have gone through the full curriculum with another 4,000 students attending at least one ChiS&E class. Now, in a much-changed environment, those one-time grade-schoolers are seniors well-positioned for success in the science and engineering fields as they embark on the next phase of their education.
One student who took to heart the lessons she learned while participating in the Detroit program was Latonia M. Harris, scientific director, Janssen Pharmaceutical Company. Harris joined the program as a 13-year-old ninth grader and describes her participation, particularly her summer enrichment programs at Michigan colleges, as “awesome.”
“At its core, ChiS&E is about letting Black and Brown students know it’s OK to like math and science,” says Hill, a message he says they do not always receive from their peers. “Students need role models in the sciences to dispel the myth that career success in these subjects is only attainable for the majority population.”
Among the hidden figures the program has exposed students to are Dr. Marian Croak, VP of engineering at Google, who spearheaded the changeover to VoIP during her time at Bell Labs; and Dr. Ayanna Howard, educator and an international expert in robotics previously with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
The need for STEM programs like the ones created by Hill grows more critical in a country where its most successful companies are driven by algorithms, developers and engineers. It’s clear that Hill’s sought after retirement will just have to wait a little longer. Participation in the program is free and students and parents may visit https://chiprep.org/contact-chise/ to learn more or to donate to the program.
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