STEMcityPHL, a civic initiative through US2020 PHL, which is a program developed from the US2020 White House call for action to develop 1 million STEM mentors by the year 2020, is holding a Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer (LGBTQ) STEM pilot program in June. The program will connect LGBTQ STEM mentors with LGBTQ youth in a high impact mentoring program where “mentor and mentee work together for at least 10 hours on a project” stated LaTierra Piphus, US2020 STEM Coalition Coordinator.
The program is coordinated out of the Mayor’s Office of Education and “is committed to increasing access to STEM careers for girls, underrepresented minorities, and low-income youth through High Impact Mentoring”. High Impact Mentoring will allow LGBTQ youth to interact with LGBTQ STEM mentors for an intensive month of hands-on guidance and interactions around topics such as introduction to computers, online communication, digital literacy, and soft skills such as writing a professional email.
US2020 PHL ran two other STEM pilot programs in the past year including one at Chester A. Arthur Middle School with the Office of Innovation Technology. This programs included 10 mentors and 8 students and focused on Geographic Information Systems and Open Data. A second pilot program included students from the School of the Future and partnered with Skyless Games; the 4 mentors and 9 students developed video game software.
Piphus wanted to focus this upcoming US202 PHL pilot program on LGBTQ in STEM because she “found it really important to be intentional about the folks we’re serving.” She continued, “…our mission as the US2020 is to increase access to STEM careers for girls, underrepresented minorities and low-income youth…being a little bit more intentional about who those underrepresented minorities are, and who those low-income youth are, and who needs it the most.” Though other programs in Philadelphia provide mentoring for youth, Piphus stated that she wanted STEMcityPHL to be more strategic about who needs mentoring the most, “I have not seen many strategically focusing on youth who are considered opportunity youth or at risk youth, those who kind of really need a little bit more support and a little bit more encouragement, especially knowing that LGBT youth are often times bullied in school, which are barriers to learning and barriers to success.”
Statistics for LGBTQ youth find that 78% are bullied or teased at school and 22% of LGBTQ youth skip school school out of fear of safety; LGBTQ youth are 3x more likely to drop out of school. In addition, a significant proportion of homeless youth, 20%, identify as LGBTQ.
Data on how many people who identify as LGBTQ are in STEM fields is difficult to assess, one analysis from 2015 found less LGBT in federal agency STEM jobs than “should be expected.” Another study found that close to 50% of LGBTQ in STEM were not out, adding to the difficulty in assessing the number of LGBTQ in STEM fields.
Piphus stated that US2020PHL wants to connect STEM mentors with LGBTQ youth “to ignite that feeling or interest of the STEM profession at a very young age.” In addition, Piphus emphasized that this program will be a “safe space where they [LGBTQ youth] can be and focus.”
STEMcityPHL is looking for approximately 5-6 mentors for 19 mentees for the upcoming LGBTQ pilot, which will take place every Monday and Thursday from 2-5p in June at the City of Philadelphia’s Innovation Center at the Municipal Service Building. At the end of the program students will receive a letter of recognition from a City official.