Infiltraiting Spaces: Uncovering Hidden Pathways into STEM


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For this project, I worked with 22 youth at the South Boston Clubhouse to design activities that promote constructionism and technological fluency, to be put in a subscription box and paired with an online community. The hope is to create an empowering and encouraging environment for marginalized youth where they feel free to pursue an education/career in STEM. The activities were selected by the youth, with help from the books The Art of Tinkering and Make: Start Making! Additionally, members of the Lifelong Kindergarten research group contributed activity ideas. The subscription box, while still being developed, was intentionally designed to encourage youth to pursue STEM activities – and ultimately a career, no matter the obstacles. From several of my listening methods, I learned that a majority of the youth I worked with didn’t know anyone in their families (or social network) who have a career in STEM, and didn’t know what types of careers were possible with a STEM education. This information shaped the direction of the online community. The online community’s purpose is to give youth a place to explore and ask questions they don’t have the space and opportunity to in their everyday lives, in addition to showcasing their work.

The race, class, and social barriers to constructionism in education for Black (and other marginalized communities) prevents their access to participation in 21st century careers in STEM fields that have the power to radically improve the economic trajectories of their lives. My hope is that with this project, we can find a way to lessen the barriers, diversify STEM fields, and show youth what is possible while also connecting them to opportunities.


Case Study

Listening Methods

While taking Technology and Social Change last semester, I had the opportunity to get a head start on this project. Below are listening methods that helped formed my design brief, and my decision to go forth with the Subscription box idea.

Historical Analysis 
Through my historical analysis (an IDEO method) I was able to dig deeper into the inequalities in the public school system – a system that has a direct impact on Black and other marginalized youth’s ability to go into STEM fields. While conducting research on this system, it was evident that, as I suspected, multiple systems of discrimination and oppression are at play, at once. These systems include, but are not limited to, poverty, housing, violence, and healthcare.

Ecosystem Map
I developed a high-level ecosystem map that shows who is impacted directly and indirectly by the systemic and structural barriers to constructionism in education for Black and other marginalized youth.
Now that this has a specific focus, I plan to create another map, that is more detailed, and includes the youth at the South Boston Boys and Girls Club that I will be working with.

Contextual Inquiry
I conducted interviews with different entities from the my ecosystem map. Those people, and their current roles, are described below. The people who were interviewed are not limited in knowledge to their current positions, and were able to speak about the different parts of the ecosystem they are/were connected to.

Research Scientist at the MIT Media Lab
Education Consultant and author of the 2010 Tacoma Achievement Gap Report
Faculty member at the MIT Media Lab
Graduate student at Anglia Ruskin University
Director of the Computer Clubhouse Network
Co-Founder of Technology Access Foundation
Fulbright Fellow currently working on a STEM program for girls in Cambodia
Physics teacher at the Tacoma School of Industrial Design Engineering and Art
Clubhouse Coordinator at the Boston Computer Clubhouse
Alumni of Year Up – Seattle
Software Developer at Microsoft
Computer Science student at a community college
7th grade student aspiring to be a game designer.

Inspirational Works
My inspiration comes from the many Black women who persisted despite the systemic, structural, and social barriers they faced. Kimberlé Crenshaw’s work around intersectionality encouraged me to believe that multiple things can be true at once – in this case, multiple barriers can exist at once. The virtual community #BlackAndSTEM, created by Stephani Page, PhD has encouraged Black people in STEM academic programs and professional careers to share their experiences, and empower a new generation.  Following Chanda Prescod-Weinstein, PhD on social media (and in real life) reaffirmed my experiences and desire to pursue this issue. She is the 63rd Black woman in the United States to receive a PhD in physics (there are less than 100), and she constantly speaks out about injustice through her writing. Trish Dziko, who has paved the way for Black and Brown youth to pursue STEM in Seattle for more than 20 years at Technology Access Foundation, inspired me to look more into the traditional education role in constructionism, which impacts a wider range of youth than after-school programs. Tacoma Action Collective, and their work around HIV/AIDS prevention through social justice inspired me to to think of how to approach this issue from a social justice lens.
Books that inspired my research include “Lifelong Kindergarten” by Mitch Resnick and “Why We Can’t Wait” by Martin Luther King Jr.

Below are listening methods that I have started to implement or will implement in the next few weeks with stakeholders.

Stakeholder Interviews
I began with a group stakeholder activity with the Lifelong Kindergarten research group. I started with this group, because they created the first Computer Clubhouse, and developed the four guiding principles they operate under. As a group, they identified creative learning activities, and next steps that can be paired with them. (Next steps can be college majors, summer programs, community college, technical college, four year university, etc.)

Comparative Analysis
During first semester I began doing research on who is already addressing the issue, and looked at other STEM subscription boxes. In the next few weeks, I will take a closer look at the subscription boxes and online communities for marginalized youth, to see what is already being done, and how what I want to do is different. This will allow me to identify gaps in what’s already being offered.

In addition to the methods listed above, I plan to implement the card sorting method before prototyping the online space and community.

Jaleesa’s Intro

My name is Jaleesa, and I’m a master’s student at the Media Lab, with the Lifelong Kindergarten group. I’m from Tacoma, WA, where I was a community organizer and educator before moving to Cambridge for grad school. I worked with Tacoma Action Collective, I taught high school computer science, and I was the coordinator at the Tacoma Computer Clubhouse. 

Last semester I took Technology & Social Change, where my project was #BlackInSTEM: examining the barriers to constructionism in education for Black youth through an intersectional lens. In my design brief I scratch the surface at the race, class, and social barriers that Black and other marginalized youth encounter. For this class, I would like to focus on one of the project ideas from my ideation section, the subscription box. Below is the description:

“In short, the idea is to create a STEM subscription box that is focused on empowering and encouraging marginalized youth to be creators and pursue an education/career in STEM. Each month youth will receive a box that contains materials and a design question/challenge. The box will also include information about the products, and where they can receive more information. The box will not contain instructions, as the focus is on constructing their own ideas and becoming inventors and creators. The box will contain the image and story of a person of color in STEM and their story, including their path into STEM, their struggles, and what they wish they’d known as a teenager. To accompany the box, there will be an online space where youth can share images of what they created, comment on what others created, and ask questions when they get stuck. Both online and in the box will be tips on how to troubleshoot, and messages of encouragement from STEM professionals. The online space will also provide information on where they can be connected to mentors. The combination of the box and online space will give marginalized youth the power to create, inspiration, a place to share, a space to ask questions, and a space that they can call their own. Possible collaborators include Make! Magazine, Arduino, Adafruit, and other companies that are present in the maker movement. There is also potential for community collaboration, through purchasing options. To eliminate the cost barrier, individuals can purchase a subscription for a youth, classroom, or after school program that can’t afford it.

This intervention combines several of my ideas into one, because this issue is complex and deserves a solution that is intersectional. The subscription box provides several interventions, including empowerment, access to engage in constructionist learning, providing mentorship, creating a safe space to share ideas, and eliminates the barrier created by poverty”

My community partner will either be the Computer Clubhouse Network or an individual Clubhouse.