Filed Under:  Education, Local

Sophie B. Wright students see potential career paths

7th May 2012   ·   0 Comments

By Zoe Sullivan
Contributing Writer

Laughter and an excited buzz echoed down the hallway at Sophie B. Wright High School. A classroom strained to contain 20 students and their adult mentors who had broken into groups to build K’Nex robotic cars powered with vinegar and baking soda. Charles Johns, Wendrika Mills, Todren Francis and Kenneth Walker all conspired in one corner of the room. “We’re going to put the baking soda at the bottom,” Johns told The Louisiana Weekly, explaining that the group was planning to use tissues as a buffer to prevent lemon juice from reacting immediately with the baking soda and making it impossible to put the cap on the bottle.

Around the room, similar problems with plastic bottles and combustion held the attention of other clumps of students. Each group was experimenting with designs and formulae to power a car for the farthest distance and win the competition.

The event was a collaboration between the Urban League of Greater New Orleans, the New Orleans Chapter of the Society of Black Engineers and the National Urban League’s Young Profes­sionals network. By giving the youth an opportunity to get hands-on with science, the organizers hoped to stimulate the young people’s interest in education and career paths related to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

While the Young Professionals have been running the STEM program for nine years, according to New Orleans President Jonathan Sumter, “this is our first year that we’re actually engaging our mentorship program, where we’re actually bringing young professionals in and making it into an mentorship piece as well.”

Mashandra Hall, High School Principal at Sophie B. Wright, told The Louisiana Weekly: “[in] order to be able to truly pick a career, you have to be exposed to different areas, so that the curriculum that you’re participating in in high school makes sense to you and has a real-world connection.” Hall also underscored her gratitude to the National Urban League for selecting Sophie B. Wright to host the car-making initiative.

“Also, we wanted to introduce more young ladies into STEM,” Hall explained, “because quite often our girls shy away from science and math, and we don’t want them to do that.” Hall pointed out that these fields “are where tomorrow’s dollar is, and we want [women] to be able to support their families.”

Former Mayor Marc Morial added a jovial presence to the assembly, speaking to the students and mentors and encouraging them to remember the need for service. “I hope that when you become 21 years of age, you’ll consider joining the National Urban League Young Professionals and being a part of this very important part of what we all have to do, which is give back to our communities, support our community, and help others.”

Morial also took the occasion to urge the youth in the room to consider technical fields. “We need more people who want to become engineers, and who want to become computer scientists and computer programmers and work in the field of technology, because it’s changing the world.” Confessing that he hadn’t understood his chemistry class in school, Morial explained that he hadn’t seen the connection between what he was learning in the classroom and practical applications, something the day’s project aimed to help illuminate. Morial’s advice was not all about idealism, however, as he pointed out that “those jobs today are well-paid jobs.”

“What this is, is a great way for the kids to learn problem-solving skills and connect it to future careers,” Jordan Shelley, a science teacher at Sophie B. Wright, told The Louisiana Weekly. While Shelley is completing his first year at Wright, this is his second year working with the Urban League on the STEM project.

After the speeches, several of the boys in the group gave a step performance in the hall, which drew cheers and applause from the onlookers. As the students drifted back into the classroom and their experiments with the cars, Jabreel Walker, Chair of the Women’s Alumni Extension of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) told The Louisiana Weekly that she was present, in part, because of her passion for service. She also acknowledged her ability to serve as a role model. “Being here is showcasing that you can be Black and a female and an engineer. You can excel.”

Walker also pointed out that while youth are all familiar with more traditional professional paths such as medicine and law, engineering does not get as much attention as a career option. “NSBE has helped to put over 100,000 Black engineers into the workforce,” she said. One of Walker’s NSBE colleagues, Gilbert Bennett, told The Louisiana Weekly that the organization would be running a free engineering experience summer camp for children New Orleans, and that the camp would accommodate approximately 150 young people. More information is available through the NSBE website, www.nsbe.org.

This article was originally published in the May 7, 2012 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper

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