The Women Change Worlds blog of the Wellesley Centers for Women (WCW) encourages WCW scholars and colleagues to respond to current news and events; disseminate research findings, expertise, and commentary; and both pose and answer questions about issues that put women's perspectives and concerns at the center of the discussion.

Engaging Black Girls in STEM With a Culturally Responsive Maker Program

A meeting of Black Girls Create, a culturally responsive STEM program created by LaShawnda Lindsay, Ph.D. (center)
The following is an excerpt from an article in the spring 2021 issue of Afterschool Matters about Black Girls Create, a culturally responsive maker program designed by LaShawnda Lindsay, Ph.D.

Black Girls Create addresses issues of equity, inclusion, and relevance for Black girls by providing a curriculum and a learning environment that incorporates girls’ cultural and intellectual histories and expands the meaning and purposes of STEM learning. A unique aspect of Black Girls Create is that it focuses on making and maker culture. Maker afterschool programs in which girls learn about digital fabrication and engage in STEM in meaningful ways are associated with improvements in their STEM interest and self-efficacy.

Making can involve traditional craft and hobby techniques, such as sewing or woodworking. It often incorporates digital technologies in either manufacture or design. For example, manufacturing processes might use laser cutters or 3D printers; designs might use microcontrollers or LED lights for specific effects. Digital fabrication involves the design and manufacturing of products using advanced technology. Common forms of digital fabrication are computer numerical control (CNC) machinery, 3D printing, and laser engraving and cutting.

Makerspaces and related activities give young people who have disengaged from formal STEM instruction opportunities to design, tinker, and build in nontraditional ways, thus enhancing their confidence and interest in STEM. Making gives Black girls access to sophisticated digital tools they can use to build, create, and think. Maker learning can engage Black girls in STEM and broaden participation in STEM by centering on digital fabrication activities that align with Black culture and strengthen their connection to their heritage.


[Culturally responsive maker programs] can broaden participation of Black girls, a historically underrepresented group in STEM, by addressing identity gaps that prevent some Black girls from seeing themselves as capable STEM learners.

Culturally responsive making is an emerging field in both research and practice in informal STEM learning environments. For this project, culturally responsive making is operationally defined as tapping cultural knowledge and maker technologies to engage Black girls in creating, designing, and producing artifacts related to a particular concept, theme, or person. It connects with Black female learners’ interests and activities along a spectrum of cultural practices, from traditional to vernacular. It also engages Black youth in cultural affirmation and sociocultural critique.

Making situated in an appropriate cultural context can broaden participation of Black girls, a historically underrepresented group in STEM, by addressing identity gaps that prevent some Black girls from seeing themselves as capable STEM learners and future STEM professionals.

During the pilot implementation of Black Girls Create, we engaged Black girls in digital fabrication to increase their interest in STEM and their confidence in their ability to learn STEM. Its culturally responsive pedagogy focused on Black women’s contributions in STEM. The combination of making, social history, cultural responsiveness, and mentoring addressed the participation gap and identity gap experienced by Black girls in ways designed to lead to more positive racial and gender identities.


Acknowledging and incorporating participants’ culture helps them create meaningful connections to academic subjects—particularly when they are members of underrepresented groups.

Incorporating Black culture into program design and implementation was a critical feature of Black Girls Create. Culture is the mechanism through which people learn how to be in the world, how to behave, what to value, and what gives meaning to their lives. Culture is the context for learning, whether in formal or informal settings. Acknowledging and incorporating participants’ culture helps them create meaningful connections to academic subjects—particularly when they are members of underrepresented groups who may believe that certain subjects are unrelated to their current or future lives. Many Black girls and young women believe that science and math are not interesting and that the content is too difficult for them to master. As a result, many of them disengage from learning and fall behind in these core subjects.

Decades of research show that situating learning within Black students’ cultural context and connecting academic subjects to their cultural knowledge produce better academic outcomes. When these connections are made, especially in science and math, Black learners are more likely to show interest in the subject, engage in all aspects of the learning process, and master the content.


LaShawnda Lindsay, Ph.D., is a research scientist at the Wellesley Centers for Women who integrates culturally responsive teaching and learning, digital fabrication, and cultural knowledge into STEM programs to increase Black girls’ interest and value in STEM education and careers. Read more about her program, Black Girls Create in the spring 2021 issue of Afterschool Matters.

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Guest — Rajveer singh rawat
In my oppion this is the best article for equality This article gives awareness to our culture about not respecting black girls.... Read More
Friday, 20 August 2021 22:40
Guest — Keith Catherine
This article gives us equality and awareness. It gives us the idea of helping the black girls in any aspect. And also this will wa... Read More
Monday, 06 September 2021 13:20
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Exploring Possibilities: Advancing Racial Justice Through Research

dark barn interior looking to brightness outsideThe question of how to address structural racism continues to loom large, both in our national conversation and in social science research. Addressing the white supremacist system (which is also marked by gender oppression, economic exploitation, and heteronomativity) is ultimately the question that connects all other research questions about equitable outcomes for young people. As a research scientist who focuses on child and adolescent development, I am starting with what I have learned from young people, youth workers, and community leaders, which has shaped how I think about the role research can play in advancing racial justice.

Much of my work involves documenting how various interventions support the academic progress, health, and wellbeing of young people — and furthermore, how outcomes are different for youth based on their race/ethnicity, income level, age, gender, learning needs, or language. For example, I might be interested in whether offering a certain kind of enrichment activity to a young person will help them graduate from high school. Can a program help a young person to stay out of “trouble” and go on to contribute to society? This work is important and I enjoy doing it, but this framing also implicitly locates the source of social and political problems within a young person rather than within the system itself.

Given the systemic and pervasive nature of racialized inequalities, I wonder if these types of interventions are sufficient. I wonder if there are ways that researchers, practitioners, youth, and families might collectively intervene upon the system of inequality, and then assess the impacts of systemic changes on the lives of young people, their families, and their communities.

We don’t need research to tell us that every young person and their family has a right to a home, but research might test the hypothesis that providing them with safe, secure housing throughout 15 years of schooling could impact academic achievement. Instead of looking at whether a specific training program helps youth to get jobs, perhaps we can expand our focus and efforts on training employers to resist perpetuating racist tactics in their organizations, hold them accountable to hire people from the communities where they are located, and then document the impacts of these efforts on job access and retention for young people and adults. The scope of this kind of research requires a shift in our current approaches and existing methods, but I believe it is worth exploring.

As the examples above show, housing and employment are racial justice issues. Similarly, many of the systemic issues we aim to address in the out-of-school time (OST) field are also racial justice issues. For example, we are interested in recruiting and retaining a diverse and skilled workforce. I wonder if and how recruitment efforts, retention rates, and program quality overall would improve if each worker earned a full-time salary, healthcare, and benefits. I wonder how youth's sense of inclusion and belonging in these programs is affected when programs are staffed by the families and neighbors of the youth participating in them. And I wonder if the overall quality of the programs would increase if we prioritized funding organizations led by these families and neighbors.

Based on what I know about the ingenuity and stamina of the OST workforce and grassroots community organizations, I am sure that these types of initiatives that I imagine do exist. But can we as research entities elevate, validate, and document the successes of interventions aimed at structural change?

The examples above are the types of questions that have taken root in my mind, and that I’d like to explore. They are complex and come with no easy answers. But seeking answers could give us valuable insights into improving the lives of youth, particularly youth who are systematically marginalized and harmed by a white supremacist system.

As I reflect on the year behind us and the year ahead of us, I think of something Layli Maparyan, WCW’s executive director, said to me recently: We can imagine what is possible through our work. In fact, imagining possibilities for a better future is one of my favorite parts of listening to young people and the adults who support them. They remind me that we need to think bigger, not smaller, and shift the narrative about what it means to do research. Only then can we incorporate racial justice into research in a meaningful way.


Lisette M. DeSouza, Ph.D., is an associate research scientist working with scholars at the National Institute on Out-of-School Time and at the Wellesley Centers for Women. She takes an intersectional approach to the positive development of systematically marginalized youth, with the goal of youth- and community-initiated social change. Lisette is grateful to her collaborators at WCW and in MA 21CCLC, Mimi Arbeit, Kamilah Drummond-Forrester, James Jennings, Kirshby Osias, Julie Parker and Elise Harris Wilkerson, for sharpening her communication about and focus on social justice.

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A Week to Appreciate Afterschool Professionals – April 24-28

It’s Afterschool Professionals Appreciation Week! Perhaps we should back up - what is an Afterschool Professional? Maybe you call them staff, teachers, or care providers. There are many names for the same thing – someone trained to work with youth during out-of-school time.

This week is a chance to recognize the “professional” in Afterschool Professionals. We know that afterschool matters for kids, and that afterschool professionals impact the quality of that programming. Some fun facts:

  • Participation in afterschool programs consistently increased from 2004 to 2014, rising by nearly 2 million children from 2009 to 2014 alone. In 2014, 10.2 million children (18%) participated in an afterschool program.
  • Regular participation in afterschool programs has been shown to help narrow the achievement gap between high- and low-income students in math, improve academic and behavioral outcomes, and reduce school absences.
  • The Afterschool field has defined what it takes to provide quality afterschool programming. The National AfterSchool Association (NAA) has adopted a set of Core Knowledge and Competencies, and at least 24 states have their own versions.
  • Afterschool Professionals are well-educated. A recent NAA survey of its members found that 34% of staff surveyed reported having a Masters or Doctorate degree.

And some less fun facts:

  • Less than half of afterschool professionals surveyed have access to health insurance and 39% do not have any benefits (such as insurance, paid vacation, sick leave, retirement savings).
  • The field suffers from high turnover (with some estimates up to 40% annually), with pay cited as the number one reason people leave their job.

So how can you show your appreciation? The actions of this week should be twofold. First, express your individual appreciation for those in your community who work with youth – maybe your own children - afterschool. Give them a card with words of heartfelt thanks, bake them some muffins, say thanks. But don’t stop there. Second, take some time to appreciate the incredible contribution of afterschool professionals in improving youth academic, behavioral, and social emotional outcomes. Given the proposed budget cuts of the current administration, it seems an opportune time to also suggest you contact your representatives and let them know how much you support afterschool professionals (the Afterschool Alliance also has information to guide you).

This week is a chance to both thank Afterschool Professionals for keeping our kids safe and happy, and to think bigger about what it takes to be an afterschool professional and the huge positive impact they have on the lives of youth. So, to all the Afterschool Professionals, thank you!

Betsy Starr, M.Ed. is a research associate at the National Institute on Out-of-School Time (NIOST) at the Wellesley Centers for Women. Her work focuses on professional development and system-building for the field of afterschool and youth development.

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Views expressed on the Women Change Worlds blog are those of the authors and do not represent the views of the Wellesley Centers for Women or Wellesley College nor have they been authorized or endorsed by Wellesley College.

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