Black Americans are grossly underrepresented in STEM fields, making up less than 10 percent of the professionals employed in those areas.
Morgan State University professor Jonathan Wilson is one of the many academic leaders advocating to reverse that trend. He leads the Baltimore MUREP Aerospace Academy (BMAA) and is one of the key coordinators of the yearly STEM Day Extravaganza, which is a highly anticipated event for local students, educators, community members and organizations.
One of the primary focuses and goals of the extravaganza is to encourage young people — minorities in particular — to consider pursuing STEM-related professions.
“The high demand for minorities in STEM has always been there and it’s still here,” said Wilson, an associate professor of biology at Morgan State.
“In terms of the dearth of the need for minority representation, we need that more than ever. That’s why we were really anxious and happy to put the ninth STEM Extravaganza back in place in person. I’m so glad we did it.”
The ninth annual STEM Day Extravaganza at Morgan State’s Hill Field House was particularly special because it was the first one held since 2019. The events in 2020 and 2021 weren’t held in person due to concerns caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Organizers expected around 500 students, composed of local elementary, middle and high schoolers, along with about 50 exhibitors to attend. The five-hour event was on Sept. 10 and, per usual, attracted a large crowd of inquisitive youngsters ready to learn, interact, explore and have all-round fun.
Seven new exhibitors were at STEM Day Extravaganza, according to Wilson. FLIG Flight School, one of the new exhibits, was founded by Deandre Daniels and conveyed the importance of drones in modern technology. Daniels’ table was among the more frequented exhibits by visitors.
“We understand the drone industry is going to be a trillion-dollar industry within the next eight years, so we know the youth will be the working force in the next eight years and we want to get them prepared so they can be in this industry,” said Daniels, whose organization also has a youth robotics and STEM program.
“The engagement has been great. All of the kids love the drones, like they’re super excited.”
Daniels, a nearby resident of Morgan State, was driving in the campus vicinity one day, saw the STEM Day Extravaganza sign and was interested in participating. He subsequently reached out to Wilson, and the rest is history. Engaging Black youth plays a significant role in Daniels’ work.
“There is a void. We are not in this industry. This is a white male-dominated industry,” he said. “We need to get the Black youth involved… [The drone] is an industry that’s starting from the ground up that we can in now.”
Other organizations and agencies who set up exhibits at the event for the first time this year included the American Nuclear Society, GESTAR, NASA Heliophysics, NASA Hubble Space Telescope and National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.
Among the most popular exhibits for visitors appeared to be the STAR Lab Planetarium, ‘Lobeoratorium,’ BMAA Stomp Rockets and MSU GESTAR and Physics. Nonetheless, most of the exhibitors found innovative ways to create hands-on, minds-on, informative STEM activities for youth, sustaining their interest and participation.
Caresa Lee came to MSU’s STEM Day along with her two sons, one a fourth grader and one a second grader. This is their second time attending the extravaganza, she said, adding that she plans to re-enroll her boys in the BMAA program.
“It’s great that everything is getting back together, and just seeing they’re interested in science and what part of science they’re interested in,” Lee said.
Yashika Rayeekanti, a seventh grader who is home schooled, came along with her father and siblings. She took particular interest in the astronomy display, Hubble Space Telescope, James Webb Telescope, American Nuclear Society and zebra fish exhibits.
The STEM Day Extravaganza also aims to provide parents with educational techniques and materials to keep their children interested in academics, specifically the STEM field. Activities included a range of STEM-related disciplines, including astronomy, model airplane building and flying, life science activities, engineering design and construction, math and science games, rocketry, robotics and various NASA educational activities.
While most of the attendees were either in middle or elementary school, a good deal of high school-aged children were present as well.
Derrel Davis, a freshman at Baltimore Polytechnic Institute, learned quite a bit at STEM Day. The 14-year-old said he is interested in architecture and discussed his fascination with the MSU Climate Science Program and FLIG Flight School exhibit.
“I brought him here because… I just want to keep him exposed to career options and what not,” said his mother, Lessie Davis.
Wilson said he was happy with the event’s turnout.
“I hope I am able to continue to encourage the students and children to think of doing STEM,” Wilson said. “Minority students need to take advantage of all those opportunities.”