As February ushers in Black History Month and the highly anticipated release of Marvel’s Black Panther, I’ve noticed a couple of things in the excitement surrounding the movie.
First, Black Panther is the first movie in history where people may be considered uncool for NOT wearing a costume to the premier.
Second, and more important, observation is that various members of the community have come together and taken on the responsibility of buying out theaters to make sure that black kids, regardless of their parent’s income, will be able to see the movie. It’s been surreal seeing the community invest financial resources and time to make sure that these kids can see and celebrate superheroes who look like them.
Mentors are superheroes to their mentees because they take on the responsibility of providing guidance and support for someone’s academic or professional goals. As with buying out theaters for Black Panther, supporting typically underrepresented STEM students/early career professionals may require an even greater level of commitment from their community than the already admirable commitment of being a mentor. While it would be impossible for you to mentor to every person who needs one, these are some tangible steps that you can take to go from being a superhero to your mentee, to being a superhero to entire communities.
As with any superhero, people need to know your story. Get together with some of your friends who are studying/working in STEM related fields and ask a local middle or high school about starting a monthly speaker series where you can talk to the students about your academic and professional journey. Think about the pride you felt when people who looked like you came in and spoke with your class or school about their careers; you’re able to do this now.
Volunteering as a judge during a local hackathon, robotics competition,
youth entrepreneurship competition, or any other activities exposing students to STEM is a great experience. It’s good to be supportive of existing efforts to uplift the community and encourage students to engage in STEM, and at some point, you should consider putting together your own event. Gather some like-minded individuals and host a hackathon or youth entrepreneurship competition. Buy some cool prizes for the participants and even if money is too tight to do that yourself, try to get your company or student organization to donate money for prizes for the students. Superheroes need crews too.