Program combats underrepresentation of African-American men in STEM

Underrepresented is not often the word that comes to mind when discussing males in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM; however, the mission of the St. Elmo Brady STEM Academy is to eliminate the underrepresentation of African American boys in STEM subjects.

The academy hosted its second annual science fair Saturday to exhibit what students have learned through their participation in the program.

Nearly 30 students took part in the program and science fair this year, said Jerrod Henderson, lecturer in chemical and biomolecular engineering.

The program not only focuses on educating young African-American boys but their fathers as well.

Henderson and Ricky Greer, an academic hourly in chemical and biomolecular engineering, developed the program as a way to increase representation of African American men in STEM.

“My favorite part (of the program) is probably the science fair,” Greer said. “Seeing the kids explain their understanding of these sometimes high-end or really interesting science content.”

Henderson said the program specifically targets 4th and 5th grade students to combat the growing disinterest in STEM fields that traditionally occurs at that age.

The St. Elmo Brady STEM Academy is an eight-week program hosted at Booker T. Washington and Garden Hills elementary schools on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.

On Tuesday and Thursday, Henderson said, typically, a student from a University registered student organization leads an experiment.

On Saturday, fathers and male role models are invited to help students complete the experiments.

Henderson said his favorite part of the program is watching fathers engage with their children and seeing the children learn from their own father or others in attendance.

Although the program’s typical seed money came from the University’s Office of Public Engagement, Greer said they do not currently receive funding from the University. However, the program has received funds from Chevron Phillips Chemical and the PASS Program.

St. Elmo Brady was a University alumnus and the first African-American man to earn a Ph.D. in chemistry in the United States, according to the chemistry department’s website.

Henderson said a photo of Brady in the Noyes Laboratory inspired him during his time at the University.

Additionally, Brady taught at Greer’s alma mater, Tuskegee University, and was mentored by Booker T. Washington.

The program began at Booker T. Washington Elementary. Greer and Henderson said their goal is to continue the program’s growth.

“We would love to expand to a couple other cities in the state of Illinois and maybe eventually a couple other states,” Henderson said. “So we’re just continuing to think big and move forward.”

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Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that St. Elmo Brady was the first African-American man to earn a Ph. D in the United States. He was the first African-American to earn a Ph.D in chemistry. The Daily Illini regrets the error.