Bowie State Redefines HBCU S.T.E.M. Excellence with Ei2 Initiative

S.T.E.M. development and preparation looks different at Bowie State University. It includes beakers, circuitry and whiteboards with ideas on the next entrepreneurial break through in tech commerce, but it also includes video games, ceramics, and social justice. It includes students who major in communications, sociology and other liberal and fine arts, newly introduced to scientific methods leading to careers as creators within their fields of study.

Last week, 50 BSU students and recent alums were inducted into a society of scholars and fellows within the university’s Education Innovation Initiative (Ei2), a program that develops mentoring, academic performance and career preparation under the banner of S.T.E.M. advancement.

At colleges and universities nationwide, S.T.E.M. usually finds a way to add an “A” for institutional inclusiveness for agriculture. At BSU, the ‘A’ stands for the arts, and it’s just part of a unique programmatic identity that has made Ei2 the school’s signature initiative, and a magnet for potential employers looking to recruit from growing pool of creative minds in critical fields.

Everything about Ei2 flies in the face of typical S.T.E.M. development at HBCUs. It wasn’t created by a leading researcher or professor in the School of Arts and Sciences; it was launched by BSU alumnus and security tech executive Traviss Green in 2013. Its mission extends beyond increasing the number of S.T.E.M. graduates from BSU, but to bridge BSU students, faculty, and corporate mentors with secondary school students in the surrounding region to raise awareness about careers in S.T.E.A.M. industries.

One of its chief organizers and advocates isn’t a faculty member but Chief of Staff Tammi Thomas, a driving partner in promoting the program that has emerged as the core of BSU’s institutional identity as an elite producer of community-minded researchers, educators and practitioners in applied sciences.

It counts among its high-profile executions a center of excellence for healthcare response and preparedness to natural disasters, and a mentoring agreement with the Department of Defense. But when you talk with students, their faculty advisers and corporate supporters, it becomes clear that Bowie State is perfecting a talent pipeline the nation has aggressively been looking to create over the last 15 years; in part, because of its deliberate willingness to push S.T.E.M. beyond common approaches.

“Art is an interdisciplinary field, that consists of everything everybody else does, plus some special stuff that we know how to do that everyone else can’t do,”said Gina M. Lewis, Associate Professor of Art and Coordinator of Visual Arts.

Dr. Lewis described a recent project from a BSU student who assessed attitudes and perceptions of Baltimore City held by residents immediately following riots in the city last April. The social science aspect of the project involved data and surveying; not an easy task, but an important insight into connectivity between science and the humanities.

“Color is a science, it’s not just that I have intuition about color doing pretty things. Understanding the optical science of how people see color helps you to do more with it. Ceramics is geology; turning dirt to glass. But it is also understanding temperature, understanding the makeup of the clay, and the glaze. We don’t do all of those things without the combination of science, social science and the humanities.

Julian McCormick has served as Mr. Senior, a section leader in the Symphony of Soul marching band, and participated in the university’s undergraduate research institute, an offshoot of the Ei2 program. He has traveled to genetic variations in yam species in Nigeria, and to Cold Spring Harbor Laboratories in New York to study DNA construction.

“This opportunity has exposed me to things I may not have focused on, and gave me a lot of professional experience. Getting projects done, presenting research, it gave me the work that helped get me to the level which I needed to positively impact my future.”

With plans to become a cardiothoracic surgeon, McCormick says that Ei2 has given him the experience and the confidence to pursue a career in a highly competitive field, and the pride in receiving high-caliber training from a historically black college.

“It’s really great to have the family atmosphere, and its great to try and help put my school on the map. Our institutions are still relevant, and We produce great leaders and students who are going to be great leaders in our communities in throughout the world. You always hear about the bad things, but rarely the good things, and so I’m honored to be a part of one of the shining lights coming from our institutions.”

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