Assistant Professor Faheemah Mustafaa is co-PI on a $2.4 million three-year National Science Foundation grant to develop the Ujima Girls in Robotics Leadership Project, an informal STEM learning experience that will be offered in the summer for Black middle and high school girls throughout California. The project aims to increase participants’ positive attitudes about STEM through hands-on engineering and robotics opportunities in a culturally relevant environment. It will also develop their leadership skills through mentoring with Black female college students as well as Black female engineers, scientists and executives from STEM industries.
The collaborative project will build on previous research by Mustafaa and the work of colleague and PI Harry Cheng, Professor of Engineering at UC Davis, at his Center for Integrated Computing and STEM Education (C-STEM). Umoja Community Education Foundation and its partnering California community colleges will also collaborate on the project.
Mustafaa will lead the research team, first modifying the GIRL/GIRL+ Camp curriculum implementation process, currently offered in summers through C-STEM, so that it is more culturally relevant to African American girls. She’ll then study the impact of having a culturally relevant informal STEM learning model applied to existing STEM interventions.
“A lot of classroom learning is detached from application, so informal STEM learning opens up opportunities to connect learning to things that are important to students,” she said. “In general, we need to continue to do better at making learning more contextualized and relevant for all students regardless of race or gender, and that’s particularly true of students from historically marginalized backgrounds.”
As a former middle school science teacher, Mustafaa is well aware that the limited resources available to many teachers and school districts also limit future career choices for students. “When I taught science in Miami, we barely had enough textbooks in my classroom, let alone access to robotics,” she said. “So it’s exciting to be part of creating this informal STEM learning environment to support life opportunities for girls. I’ve always loved science myself and I know that thinking like a scientist opens so many doors. I want all young girls, and especially girls of color and those in historically marginalized communities, to have access to all the paths they can take that combine their strengths and interests.”