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DEI Chats: Making STEM Education Accessible for All

Posted: February 23, 2022

Each month, SAE International is having honest conversations with our members, volunteers, and employees about diversity, equity, and inclusion in the world of mobility. We reflect with our partners on how identity has shaped their experience in the field and how we can work toward a more equitable and inclusive future.

This month, we sat down with an educator and an A World In Motion® (AWIM®) volunteer to talk about unique challenges students of color face in classrooms, why representation matters, and how different approaches to STEM education create pathways into deeper understanding for all kinds of learners.


Our AWIM partners will tell you a one-size-fits-all approach to education belongs in the past.

They say understanding a student—their personal identity, their background, their learning style—is vital to providing experiences that will prepare them for the next stages of their life.

But how does a teacher uncover and fulfill those needs?

“I think it’s important that we know the community that we serve and be aware of what they have and what they don’t have,” said Carla Neely, middle school science teacher for the Cleveland Metropolitan School District’s Warner Girls’ Leadership Academy. “That’s part of the problem. I think a lot of schools, they’re not really aware of the community that they serve, and once that occurs, things will start to get a little bit easier.”

Providing the same supports to all students for lab work (as Neely does) plays a role in creating an equal footing for students. Just as important, though, is allowing students to see themselves reflected in the lessons they’re learning.

“I grew up in a very diverse area… the funny thing was, there were so many black and Hispanic kids, but almost all the teachers were white,” said Sabrina Chapman, SAE Foundation Trustee, AWIM volunteer and Manager of Systems Engineering at Northrup Grumman. “And I think the reason that there were not, at least at the time, a lot of minority teachers in the classroom is because it’s not really pushed to minority communities that leadership roles—including teaching or being a principal—are an option.”

Both Neely and Chapman are modeling what it means to be a woman of color in STEM, teaching these kids they can do anything they set their minds to. As they’re able to envision themselves in these roles, the next piece is to get their hands dirty—and AWIM gives them plenty of opportunities to do so.

“The hands-on piece is what ties it all together. You can read about it all day long, but they need to see it actually happening,” Neely said. “So that’s where that hands-on piece comes in, and they get to really learn that they can actually do the things that they’re seeing other people do.”

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