Grady Burrows knows how important diversity in STEM is for innovation, progress, and equity. But Burrows, executive director of HIT in the CLE says that the key to increasing success for Black, Latina/o/e and Indigenous students in STEM is more than just a numbers game.
“You want to have more representation within a lot of organizations, but it's not just the numbers that's the issue. That is the primary issue, but it's also once you get there, how do you (Black, Latina/o/e, Indigenous youth) navigate the politics? How do you navigate the norms?”
HIT in the CLE is a collaborative of Cleveland Ohio educators and industry professionals that offers students skills training, educational opportunities, and career exposure in STEM fields such as IT, Data Analytics, coding, and software development, all geared to the burgeoning biomedical sector in Northeast Ohio. Operating from Cleveland’s BioEnterprise Incubator, HIT in the CLE runs the ‘community classroom,’ teaching various coding languages and computer skills for beginning and intermediate students. HIT also offers an IT Learn and Earn summer internship program with Northeast Ohio IT companies and runs an annual data science competition for Cuyahoga County high school student teams.
Burrows is big on mentoring, on outreach and on fostering connections for students. “It’s important, because I’ve seen how severely underrepresented, we are with regards to black and brown people, women, and every type of minority.” He says its critical to give potential STEM practitioners a “window” to see themselves as belonging in these disciplines. “Painting that picture for them is my life’s work—it’s my passion.”
“The database structures, the programing languages, the algorithmic thinking is going to be the same, whether you’re at CSU or you’re Carnegie Mellon, because it’s the science,” said Grady.
“But what’s different many times is the 50% of the soft skills that you need, whether it’s grit, intestinal fortitude, perseverance, lifelong learning, having that curiosity kind of drive and the ability to just overcome adversity and change, that’s not taught. It’s still not taught, although we’ve been talking about this for a long time.”
Burrows says that participation in STEMPUSH has already expanded his collaborative network, “It’s energized me and given me more clarity of purpose. I’m basically a committee of one. I don’t have a staff, so when I get the opportunity to share and bounce ideas off peers it’s very, very helpful. But specifically, what it’s doing is it’s allowing me, I think, to think bigger about what I want to do to scale my program.”
Increasingly, scale means providing metrics to funders and stakeholders, and Burrows is looking forward to STEMPUSH’s Network Improvement Community (NIC) learnings on measurement. “I know that’s increasingly more important in everything we do, especially because a lot of our funding comes from philanthropic hands as well as government, and everyone wants to know metrics. So, I’m really, really interested in in picking up those skills that will help me do that job better, to become more proficient at it and to be able to, as I tell my data science kids, both orally and visually, be able to tell my story.”