Black youth in Pittsburgh getting engaged in STEAM careers

M-POWERHOUSE students from the program “Engage STEAM” showed off their skills at Pittsburgh Obama, May 22. M-PowerHouse is a local organization dedicated to getting underserved youth engaged in STEAM-related careers. (Photos by Courier photographer J.L. Martello)

by Rob Taylor Jr., Courier Staff Writer

Terry Smith with M-PowerHouse, a local organization that addresses barriers that stand in the way of underserved youth and STEAM careers, is at it again.

And when Smith gets going to help African American youth in Pittsburgh, there’s no stopping him.

The “Bridge 2 The Future STEAM Symposium” was yet another program originated by M-PowerHouse, this time to help 10th graders show off their skills related to Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics. Held at Pittsburgh Obama on May 22, the students performed two dramatic scenes on STEAM and life skills.

Speakers at the event included Pennsylvania second lady Gisele Fetterman, state Rep. Ed Gainey, M-PowerHouse Chair Paula K. Davis, M-PowerHouse Board Member Melvin Hubbard El, and representatives from UPMC.

THE ANIMAL RESCUE TEAM had a snake on hand for the students to see—and pet.


It’s no secret that there’s a shortage of African Americans in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics fields. The White House presented an Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans Fact Sheet in 2016, which included information attributed to the National Science Board that in 2012, just 11.2 percent of bachelor’s degrees in science and engineering, 8.2 percent of master’s degrees in science and engineering, and 4.1 percent of doctorate degrees in science and engineering were awarded to minority women. The same fact sheet referenced the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), which administered the first-ever nationally representative assessment of technology and engineering literacy in 2014. The report found that just 18 percent of Black eighth-grade students scored at or above proficient, whereas 56 percent of White students scored at or above proficient. Also, students who qualified for free or reduced-price lunch scored an average of 28 points lower than students from more affluent families.

Overall, Black students studying engineering earned just 4.2 percent of bachelor’s degrees in 2012 in the U.S., while White students earned 68.1 percent of the engineering degrees, according to The Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions.

“African American students are more likely to struggle with environmental barriers that can reduce academic performance, and not see themselves as having a place in the STEM community,” the White House Initiative on Education Excellence for African Americans Fact Sheet said.



The fact sheet outlined three ways to support STEM success among African American students: 1. Provide additional support to students pursuing STEM degrees; African American students are more likely than any other racial group to switch their majors from STEM to non-STEM programs. Upperclassmen mentorship, academic support services, and growth-mindset messaging can increase resilience. 2. Create and connect students to additional opportunities outside of the classroom to develop skills; this can include after-school programs, museum visits, and conversations at home. 3. Expose students to African Americans who have succeeded in STEM careers; African American students do not see themselves as having a place in STEM. Schools can do this by highlighting scientists of color in their curriculum. At home, having conversations about the history of African American excellence in STEM can also be a source of encouragement.

Along with the many programs and events M-PowerHouse holds to encourage STEAM-related careers to Pittsburgh youth, former President Barack Obama made STEM a priority, with new traditions such as the White House Science Fair, which honored young people using Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics to improve their communities. And in 2016, President Obama invested $3 billion across 14 federal agencies for dedicated STEM education programs.

Historically Black Colleges and Universities also are doing everything possible to increase the number of Black engineering graduates. According to information from 2014, HBCUs accounted for 20 percent of all engineering degrees of African Americans in the U.S.

“These institutions witness disproportionate success because their primary mission is the provision of opportunity and equity for all, especially Black students, so that these students can more fully realize their potential as future leaders, educators, and innovators,” wrote Marybeth Gasman of the University of Pennsylvania, and Thai-Huy Nguyen of Seattle University, in a report entitled “Historically Black Colleges and Universities as Leaders of STEM” for the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education.

The report used data from the National Science Foundation and other entities to calculate the number of engineering degrees bestowed in the U.S. from 2008-2012 (222,537). From that number, out of the top 20 schools that had Black engineering graduates, eight of them were HBCUs. Howard University led the way in the HBCU category (No. 6 overall), followed by North Carolina A&T State (No. 7 overall), Florida A&M (No. 9), Spelman College (No. 12), Hampton University (No. 13), Southern (No. 16), Morgan State (No. 17) and Alabama A&M (No. 18 overall). The top 5 schools that graduated the most Black engineering students were the University of Phoenix, Ashford, Georgia State, University of South Florida and the University of Maryland College Park.

Ohio State University, a three-hour drive from Pittsburgh, came in at No. 14 overall.

When it comes to scholarships for Black engineering students, the National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering (NACME) comes to mind. The organization has awarded more than $150 million in scholarships and program support to thousands of minority engineering students. NACME partners with more than 100 universities across the U.S. to provide the scholarships and support. A list of the partner schools and more information about NACME can be found at

More information about M-PowerHouse can be found at


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