Samantha O’Sullivan, 17, of Washington, D.C., a senior at School Without Walls Senior High School, started and leads an after-school club that engages African American middle school students in fun and educational science activities, to promote their interest and self-confidence in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) subjects. “As an African American girl pursuing math and physics, I have often found that professionals in my fields of interest do not look like me,” said Samantha. She recalls walking into a physics lab for her first internship and “feeling immediately out of place.” Determined that “no student should doubt their own ability or face any kind of hardship because of their race or gender,” Samantha launched her “STEM Up!” club.
After meeting with principals and the heads of science departments at several middle schools, Samantha found support and a sponsoring science teacher at Stuart Hobson Middle School. She assembled materials and planned activities for her club, and then began holding club meetings after school every Tuesday and Thursday. About 15 middle schoolers attend each two-hour meeting, engaging in hands-on activities such as robot-building and chemistry and biology experiments. “By creating a space where African American girls feel confident to ask questions and explore STEM amongst other students that look like them, I have seen their self-confidence increase, and their ability and skills in science flourish,” said Samantha.