uc davis cstem black african american ujima girl robotics engineering leadership
Girls participate in the C-STEM Center's RoboPlay Competition in 2019, the annual capstone of the center's award-winning K-12 curriculum. With the Ujima GIRL program, the center will build on this success to introduce Black/African American girls to STEM and teach them leadership skills in a culturally-relevant environment. Photo: Harry Cheng/UC Davis.

C-STEM Center receives $2.4M to introduce African American girls to engineering and robotics

Quick Summary

  • Starting in 2022, the Ujima GIRL Project will nurture 2,000 African American girls in middle and high school
  • The project will teach engineering and leadership in a hands-on and culturally-relevant environment

With a $2.4 million grant from the National Science Foundation, the UC Davis Center for Integrated Computing and STEM Education (C-STEM) will establish a new initiative to introduce Black/African American girls to engineering and robotics and provide them with resources to be leaders in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) in their schools, communities and careers.

The Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility) Girls in Robotics Leadership Project is a free, hands-on engineering and robotics program that teaches girls in middle and high school engineering and leadership in a culturally-relevant environment. The project is led by C-STEM director and mechanical and aerospace engineering professor Harry Cheng, UC Davis School of Education assistant professor Faheemah Mustafaa and Teresa Aldredge, the former board president of the Umoja Community Education Foundation and a senior advisor to the C-STEM Center.

faheema mustafaa uc davis school education
School of Education assistant professor Faheemah Mustafaa, who is co-PI on the project.

“This is an exciting opportunity to further encourage the creativity, leadership and scientific genius of Black girls and young women in ways that many don't have access to in their day-to-day schooling,” said Mustafaa. “I am hopeful about the mutually-empowering benefit of this project for the participants, our research team and everyone else involved.”

Introducing girls to STEM applications and leadership in middle school and nurturing that interest through high school increases the likelihood that they’ll stay in the field. Supporting Black girls’ STEM skills in identify-affirming, fun and supportive environments lowers access barriers and further increases their odds of pursuing STEM careers.

“This grant will illuminate the talent that our Black girls already have inside them and provide a safe and nurturing environment for growth and development,” said Aldredge. “I’m honored to be a part of this important endeavor for our community.”

Building a Community

teresa aldredge umoja foundation uc davis ujima girl program
Teresa Aldredge, former board president of the Umoja Foundation and a senior advisor to the Ujima GIRL program.

The Ujima GIRL programs takes the C-STEM Center’s already successful GIRL/GIRL+ camps—which have been serving girls across California since 2013 and 2018 respectively—and adds the cultural piece for African American students. The “Ujima” name is a Swahili word for “collective work and responsibility,” an important principle in many Black/African American spaces. It also symbolizes the program’s emphasis on community.

Together with California Community Colleges and the Umoja Community Education Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to enhancing the educational experience of African American students, the team will recruit African American college students to lead each Ujima GIRL or GIRL+ Camp, develop curriculum and serve as mentors.

uc davis cstem center ujima girl program engineering robotics
Mya Wright, a C-STEM GIRL Camp alumna. Wright's experiences with the GIRL Camp ignited her interest in STEM. The team hopes to continue this impact through the Ujima GIRL program. Photo: Harry Cheng/UC Davis.

Cheng’s vision is to build a “mentoring pipeline” that keeps participants involved from their first Ujima GIRL Camp through college. Ujima GIRL Camp alumni in high school can return as assistant coaches and participate in the GIRL+ camp, while GIRL/GIRL+ alumni can return as coaches in college. In addition, he also wants to encourage and empower participants to create their own Ujima GIRL clubs at their local schools, where they can share their experiences with other girls.

harry cheng uc davis mechanical aerospace engineering cstem center
Mechanical and aerospace engineering professor and C-STEM director Harry Cheng.

“We want to give students a life-changing experience and inspire them to go into college, post-secondary studies and careers in STEM,” said Cheng. “This program will help them make a real-world connection with math, because we want to give them the tools to be successful in their academic programs and learn in the years ahead.”

Starting in 2022, the program will host 48 Ujima GIRL and 48 GIRL+ camps statewide and nurture about 2,000 students. If the first three years are successful, the team hopes to expand the program nationwide.

“I hope that we can increase the number of partners and sponsors so we can effectively expand and inspire more girls with the resources they need,” said Cheng. “There are so many who want to contribute to the cause, and we stand ready to provide the opportunity to join forces and work together.”

UC Davis C-STEM Center is currently recruiting a program manager for the project.

Learn more about the project and how to participate.

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