CBS senior Chino Nwakama didn’t grow up knowing he wanted to be a scientist. He didn’t see many people of color doing science and his opportunities to engage in a meaningful way were limited. He found his way to the field and discovered a fascination for neuroscience, but the gap in representation and opportunity he observed growing up stuck with him.
“Science isn’t a very diverse field and so not seeing other people of color doing amazing things in science made me question my place in the field,” he says. Reflecting on his relationship with science as a kid made him realize that there are probably other youth who, like him, lacked meaningful science experiences. He decided to do something about it.
Nwakama organized KidSTEAM, an after-school program that partners with the University YMCA near campus and local schools to make science, technology, engineering, art, and math (STEAM) fun and accessible. He recruited 15 undergraduate peers to help deliver 12 weeks of programming to nearly 50 youth ranging from second to eighth grade. With an emphasis on reaching historically marginalized and low-income students, the program seeks to expose students to science with an eye to sparking curiosity and helping them see themselves as potential scientists.
“Every week it was rejuvenating to see the kids eager to approach science from a different angle. I simply wanted to share a different side of science. The side of science that captured me,” he says. Meanwhile, undergraduate student leaders gain valuable skills by learning how to communicate their science to others.
Nwakama was recognized for his science outreach work by receiving an Undergraduate Scholarly Excellence in Equity and Diversity Award last spring and the President's Student Leadership & Service Award. He hopes the KidSTEAM partnership will be longlasting for both the benefit of CBS students and youth in the community. —Christine Hazuka