Black Panther is the gift that keeps on giving. It gave us the best movie of the year and quite possibly the best film of all time. In an era where many black people are feeling defeated, that film reminded us just how exceptional we are. The one gift that often does not get talked about is Black Panther's impact on the STEM, specifically, the effect it had on black students. Move over Bill Nye the Science Guy and Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson; there is a new face of science and STEM, and it is Princess Shuri. Princess Shuri is a genius with her use of technology making Wakanda the 9th Wonder of the World (if it were real). She is the springboard to help the next generation of blacks to get into STEM.
Princess Shuri is a tremendous new first step in engaging black students in STEM; however, she will not be enough. We have to continue to support the engagement of black students in STEM both inside and outside of the school. Here are three tips on how we can engage black students in STEM:
1. Increase the STEM programs in predominantly black schools: With the increasing focus on statewide testing and assessments which typically focus on math and reading, the S, T, and E (science, technology, and engineering) in STEM gets lost. Science periods generally are shorter and any elective periods only cover the traditional gym, music, and art. The best way to combat this is robust after-school programs that can engage students in STEM. Lego leagues, robotic clubs, coding clubs are great starts to getting and keeping students involved in STEM. These programs can fill the gap often left by the shortening of science periods and the absence of the technology classes as an elective. Research has shown that students who partake in STEM programs outside of the classroom setting, whether in a group or individually, are more engaged anyway and stick with it longer.
2. Research local programs: Take them to STEM museums where they can engage and learn in the content on their own. Take them on trips to observatories that do public events, such as the Link Observatory in Bloomington, Indiana. Buy them books on famous STEM professionals especially black ones. In Indianapolis, there is The STEM Connection, which engages students and their families in STEM programs.
3. Engage students independently: If programs during the school day do not work, then encourage students to do programs on their own. They can find STEM programs they can do themselves. Buy them a set of Legos and allow them to build different things on their own. This will let them see reflections of STEM professionals who look like them.
Roughly 7% of the US workforce in science technology and engineering is black. These low numbers could be attributed to the fact that blacks have less of an interest in these fields due to lack of exposure. To close this gap and get more blacks in this field, we must engage them when they are young. These tips along with the presence and the fame of our new STEM Queen Princess Shuri will hopefully be the spark we need to increase that 7%.