African American Boys Get STEM Infusion in Kentucky

A $3 million grant from a foundation in North Carolina will be dedicated to programs intended to improve the quality of life for men and boys of color in the state of Kentucky. Among the projects funded is one at Kentucky State University (KSU) to team up with a local school district to introduce students in middle school to opportunities in STEM fields. The funding comes from the William R. Kenan Charitable Trust.

The initiative between KSU, a historically black university, and Frankfort Independent Schools will receive $400,000. The intent, according to Frankfort's Superintendent Houston Barber, is to develop a "sixth-grade to post-secondary pipeline" for black male students with an emphasis on supporting its science, technology, engineering and math programs.

"The impact that the Kenan Charitable Trust grant will provide for our students is a game changer," Barber said in a prepared statement. "The collaboration between KSU and Frankfort ISD will be a model for students, families and cities across the country. African-American males will be leading the way in making Frankfort the new 'Silicon Valley.'"

The overall funding effort is intended to support organizations and leaders in the state "committed to systems-level change for males of color with an emphasis on African-American men and boys," explained Dorian Burton, assistant executive director for the trust. "The group of leaders we have funded will work to connect the dots within their communities and neighborhoods, and partner with other innovative organizations committed to uplifting and building strong families within their communities."

Coverage by community media company WFPL reported that currently African Americans represent five percent of the 77,000 workers in STEM fields in Kentucky, not including healthcare. That same demographic represents 7.3 percent of the "total civilian employed population" 16 years and older in the state.

On the university end, said Ron Chi, chief academic officer of the program, in the WFPL reporting, "What we ultimately want is for our students to have something that they can take away that is truly unique to them and that has them credentialed."

This is far from the first STEM initiative delivered through the university. Recently, the campus ran an apprenticeship program for the second summer in a row, this one intended to introduce "rising high school students" — both boys and girls — to STEM occupations as well as other disciplines such as agriculture and geo-spatial related fields. Along the way they were given an introduction to the basics of college prep courses in math, chemistry, physics and biology and participated in research projects with mentoring from faculty and research scientists.

The university and school system have also previously worked together on STEM programs. Minority Male Maker, a two-year Verizon-funded project, brings 150 African American boys from five Frankfort and Lexington middle schools to campus to gain hands-on learning experiences with technology. The interaction was continued throughout the school year in regular sessions that included mentoring and support for the boys' academic progress.

About the Author

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