Through our partnership with the Coalition of Black Excellence founded by Angela J., we have the pleasure of sitting down with strategist, leader, entrepreneur, educator, and mentor Adamaka Ajaelo to discuss her program, Self-eSTEM, and its vision to provide young women of color strong support models while supporting their pursuit to achieve a successful career in the STEM field.
CBE Week runs February 18-24, 2019! Learn more about it, and the Coalition of Black Excellence, here! https://www.cbeweek.com/
Connect with us here: https://linktr.ee/livingcorporate
Zach: What’s up, y’all? It’s Zach, and listen, y’all. Living Corporate is partnering with the Coalition of Black Excellence, or CBE, a non-profit organization based in California, in bringing in a Special Speaker series to promote their CBE Week, an annual week-long event designed to highlight excellence in the black community, connect black professionals across sectors, and provide opportunities for the professional development and community engagement that will positively transform the black community. This is a special series where we spotlight movers and shakers who will be speakers during CBE Week. Today, we are blessed to have Adamaka Ajaelo. Adamaka is a strategist, leader, entrepreneur, educator, and mentor. Her 11+-year career spans over some of the world’s largest companies, and she’s leveraged her passion for the betterment of under-represented people to launch programming that helps build STEM capabilities for black girls. But don’t let me give away too much of the sauce. Adamaka, welcome to the show. How are you doing, ma’am?
Adamaka: I am doing well. Thank you for having me here. Just really trying to stay indoors, just with the poor air quality that we’re having in the Bay Area, but besides that I am doing well.
Zach: Absolutely, and yes, that’s a poignant point. I know that the wildfires have been crazy. My sister-in-law, she lives in San Francisco, and she’s telling me they can–she can smell the smoke. Like, she can smell it.
Adamaka: Yes. I’m able to smell the smoke too in the air as well, and I live in Oakland.
Zach: My goodness gracious. Well, so glad that you’re safe, and of course our prayers go to the folks out there, and I know that news is developing on the condition. Wow. So for those of us who don’t know you, would you mind telling us a little bit about yourself?
Adamaka: Sure. I am an Oakland native via Nigerian parents. Both of my parents are immigrants from Nigeria, but I was born and raised in Oakland, California. Went to school down in Los Angeles, went to Occidental College, and I’ve always had a passion for the STEM fields. Majored in math, and then upon graduation I came back to start working for Kaiser Permanente, and I did my MBA program here in Oakland at Holy Names University. I really have a passion for getting young girls excited about STEM education and career opportunities, and I am a diehard Warriors fan. Really love basketball. I played basketball also in college. But yeah, I’m just someone that also just works in–uses my spare time to really give back to the community I grew up in.
Zach: That’s awesome, and that actually really kind of leads me into my next question about your non-profit. Can you talk to us a little bit about the program, its origin? I want you to tell the audience the name of the program and the vision of it too.
Adamaka: Okay. So the name of our program is Self-eSTEM, and we were founded in 2014, and sort of the vision behind Self-eSTEM came from my I would say–I hate to say it, but painful experience as I transitioned from high school to college and found out kind of, like, the hard way that there weren’t that many people that looked like me in the STEM field, and there were a lot of obstacles. There actually were a lot of people who were actually resistant to seeing someone like me walk into their physics classroom or their math classroom or their chemistry classroom in college. So my father was a chemical engineer by trade. He graduated from UC Berkeley, and he really instilled the resiliency in me to pursue my STEM education and career pathways. However, I imagine if I didn’t have that solid foundation, you know, would I have continued down the STEM pipeline? So my vision is, like–there’s probably other girls, young girls out there, who don’t have that strong support model. So the vision is just really to provide the girls support at–young women, primarily young women of color, that support to pursue their STEM education and STEM career path throughout the critical stages of the STEM pipeline. And the name for Self-eSTEM, it’s really sort of, like, a play on the word “self-esteem,” and what we try to do is really build the girls’ self-efficacy and build their self-esteem by promoting STEM education career opportunities for them.
Zach: That’s awesome, and, you know, it’s interesting because I–I think I can’t overstate the fact that the future of AI and machine learning is leaving even more black and brown folks behind than we already are, right? So, like, by the year 2025, the workforce is gonna look way different than it is, and we’ve had some earlier podcasts on Living Corporate talking about the workforce of the future and how, you know, things are really gearing to rev up even more, and that folks who are, again, already disenfranchised, already, for factors beyond their control, lacking access to the tools and information and resources so that they can really be set up for success, that they’re gonna be even more at a disadvantage. And so while everyone doesn’t need to be a coder, there needs to be some type of radical uptick, I believe, in our technical literacy, and so how do you help prospective members of Self-eSTEM get over the perception this is just so beyond anything that they can do?
Adamaka: So what we do–it’s really in our program service delivery model. So what makes us unique is–what we try to do is to have this approach of demystifying STEM, and what we do is we try to make sure that when we’re providing our programs or we’re delivering any type of workshops that we make it culturally relevant, gender-specific, and really connect STEM concepts to things that they’re very interested in. So for example, we had one workshop called My Lip Gloss Is Poppin’, and in the workshop the outcome was for the girls to create their own lip gloss. You know they got really excited by that, but through the process they started to understand the chemical compounds behind lip gloss. And then we started to also have guest speakers of people that worked in the makeup industry and talk about the chemistry behind it, to actually say, like, you know, “This is looking at makeup from a scientific perspective,” and the girls were just like, “Wow, that’s amazing.” And then also another approach that we try to do is just really give the young girls role models, for our volunteers and our partnerships we try to do our best to make sure that the representation is there, that when they’re going to these events that they also are looking at engineer–an engineer that’s speaking to them or that’s working with them looks like themselves, because I know that that’s very key in sparking the interest in the young girls. And then the last thing that we try to do I would say is sort of, like, a re-engineering. What do they want their life to be? And trying to get them to really be in the space of dreaming, and then highlight, you know, some information about stats, about the STEM careers and how they can help you set up and allow you to afford the lifestyle that you desire, because a lot of the girls, although we’re tapped into the under-served community, they still have those big dreams, and we encourage them to dream, and then we try to highlight and connect and say, “Based off your dreams, you know, these following career paths will allow you the opportunity to afford the lifestyle that you’re looking to create.”
Zach: That’s incredible, and it’s so interesting when you–the example that you gave around lip gloss and make up, and I think it really underpins the reality that STEM is in everything that we do and everything that we touch, and it’s easy–it’s easy to get distracted or to get a bit discouraged, because I know for me growing up–so my father was a mathematics major, but, you know, for me, math was just always difficult. It was just–it was intimidating to me, and a lot of times I just psyched myself out. Like, “I can’t really do this. I can’t really do this,” and, you know, while I’m certainly better at math now, I do wish that I would’ve dug my heels in a bit deeper when it came to really engaging STEM, because it’s just in so much of what we do. So that’s incredible, and it actually leads me into my next question, which is around the exploration camp within Self-eSTEM. Can you share more about that aspect of the program and all that it entails and maybe some successes and stories around that?
Adamaka: Yes. So that’s–the STEM exploration camp is our signature or actually a pillar of what we call our Early STEM Immersion programs, and with that the STEM exploration camp is a one-week summer camp that provides STEM curriculum and career exposure through a culturally-responsible lens. So that example of the lip gloss workshop, that was one of the workshops that we had in the prior years of our STEM exploration camp, but we also know that just having the girls only for the summertime is not enough, so there’s two other components of our Early STEM Immersion program. So we also have a STEM networking club, and what that is is a weekend program that really curates hands-on field trips and interactive conversations with STEM professionals. So with that, our model is to really try to take this approach of linked learning, and that’s to get out of the classroom, and the things that they’re learning in the classroom, actually link it to actually a career path or a career field so they can see how the information that they’re learning at school can help them in the future with whatever career path they decide to select. And then the third part of our program, our Early STEM Immersion program, is our robotics club, which I’m super excited about this, and our robotics club is a weekly after-school FIRST robotics program, encouraging coding and engineering principles, attacking real-world problems, and then what we try to do is set the–select a group of cohorts, of people in a robotics club, to have some type of challenges or missions, and they get the opportunity to compete–friendly competition–to compete against each other to see who can accomplish the task or the mission through programming their robot, and in 2007–and I know it’s 2007–this statement is also something that our organization is proud of, but also too it highlights that we need more work. We were the first all-girls team, all-girls underrepresented minority team, to compete in a FIRST Lego League NorCal competition, but while we’re really excited about that, it still highlights the fact in 2017 that we still have more work to do. And this year, in 2008, we launched our first tech challenge team, which is a more advanced robotics team where the young girls actually configure and assemble their own robot, and they have to code and program it for the robot to achieve their own–certain missions and tasks through our program. So we’re really excited about that and really excited at the work and the effort that our robotics club teams are putting forward.
Zach: That’s incredible, wow. Now, I recognize that this program is primarily focused on young women of color, black girls, brown girls. What could someone who’s interested in supporting Self-eSTEM–for folks who are in Corporate America, what are opportunities for them to kind of give back or really support the program?
Adamaka: That’s a great question. Well, on our website, www.selfestem.org–and that’s S-E-L-F-S-T-E-M.org, on our Contacts tab–people can go on our Contacts tab and sign up to join our emailing list, and what we do is we send out information about upcoming workshop opportunities where people can volunteer and get engaged. In addition to that, people can also go on our Events tab and also see the upcoming events and programs that we have currently running, in operation. And also, two, if anybody has any questions of wanting to donate–we always need resources, volunteer resources. [inaudible] in addition to financial resources they wanted to make a donation or a partnership opportunity with the company that they work for, they can either email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or go visit our Contact tab on our website to see other forms to get in contact with us.
Zach: So thank you for sharing all of the information about how to contact and reach and donate, but is there anything else? Any other ways that folks can support Self-eSTEM?
Adamaka: Yes. We have our annual fundraiser–it’s Martini Splash Fundraiser–happening Saturday May 4th, 2019, at 7:30 p.m. at the California ballroom in Oakland, California. So people can definitely subscribe to our newsletter and even follow our social media pages, @SelfeSTEM on Instagram and on Facebook, to get the latest information on when tickets are going to be released and for sale. But definitely coming out and supporting us at our annual fundraiser, and we definitely keep it lit and very fun, and people have a great time. But the fundraiser is another option to support our organization.
Zach: That’s awesome. Well, we’ll make sure–like I said before, we’ll make sure to have all of this information in the show notes, but this is great. Okay. That’s incredible. I can just tell–I’m so excited just to hear about all of the things that Self-eSTEM is doing, and it’s just–it’s just really incredible, Like, robots? This is the thing for me, right? And I’m sorry. I know you already–you’ve already come and gone by this example, but robots? Like, as a little boy, I just remember me making–like, just thinking about me making a robot was just so complex to me, like, and just the practical ways that you’re reaching and inspiring and teaching these girls is incredible. And, to your point, plenty more work to do, and so I hope that our audience is hearing this, they’re hearing your information, and that they actually pay attention and engage. We’ll make sure that we’ll have Self-eSTEM’s, you know, relevant information and how to get in contact with you all, how to donate, how to support, in the show notes as well. Before we go though, do you have any parting words?
Adamaka: I just–I do have some parting words. Just for the listeners, one of the things that I wanted to highlight is to really push forward the message that STEM literacy for youth in the United States has become a matter of national security. The STEM education and career fields are the gateway to America’s continued economic competitiveness and national security, so we have to make significant investments in our youth’s interests and engagements towards STEM fields, as well as their interests and willingness to select STEM education majors, STEM majors, as well as STEM career pathways. It is projected that by 2022–between the time of 2012 to 2022, it was projected that companies would need approximately 1.6 million employees who possess some basic STEM literacy. So just to really highlight the importance of it, that it’s not necessarily just for the kids’ ability and their skill set, that it’s something that’s needed–this is something that is needed on the national level, and it has been an imperative for our national security as well as our economic competitiveness in the global economy.
Zach: Amen. Come on, now. You got me excited. Well, awesome. Well, that does it for us, y’all. Thank you for joining us on the Living Corporate podcast, a special series sponsored by the Coalition of Black Excellence. To learn more about CBE, check out their website – www.CBEWeek.com. Now, make sure you follow us on Instagram at LivingCorporate, Twitter at LivingCorp_Pod, and subscribe to our newsletter through living-corporate.com. If you have a question you’d like for us to answer and read on the show, make sure you email us at email@example.com. This has been Zach, and you’ve been listening to Adamaka Ajaelo, founder of Self-eSTEM. Peace.
Kiara: Living Corporate is a podcast by Living Corporate, LLC. Our logo was designed by David Dawkins. Our theme music was produced by Ken Brown. Additional music production by Antoine Franklin from Musical Elevation. Post-production is handled by Jeremy Jackson. Got a topic suggestion? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can find us online on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and living-corporate.com. Thanks for listening. Stay tuned.