When you look at the statistics of the amount of underrepresented, underserved, and marginalized students pursuing Chemistry degrees. As it’s been said, “The Math ain’t Mathin’,” and there is, therefore, a need to incorporate new teaching styles (pedagogies) that are inclusive and culturally relevant.
Inclusive Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math (STEAM) education and engagement with underrepresented, underserved, and marginalized communities is important now more than ever. Increasing diversity within the sciences creates inclusive opportunities for future students, professors, and professionals to enter the STEAM workforce. Previous studies have shown that diversified teams are more successful across many different sectors than non-inclusive or non-diversified teams. Previously referred to as Underrepresented Minorities (URMs), Persons Excluded Ethnically by Racial groups (PEERs) also make up the lowest percentage of the STEM field.
Dr. André K. Isaacs, Ph.D., is a professor at the College of the Holy Cross and a science communicator who is calling the truth out for what it is. With over 26 million likes on Tiktok and as a representative of the LGBTQ+ and PEERs communities, he has used his social media platform to educate and inspire students about organic chemistry. Isaacs shares in his Nature article, “Getting the next generation to participate in chemistry will require dismantling normative approaches to education and mentoring. Inclusive pedagogy that incorporates social issues and innovative teaching with special attention to historically excluded groups are keys to unlocking the full potential of future scientists.” Issacs suggests a great way to engage future scientists is by “meeting students where they are,” and incorporating the use of social media and culturally relevant themes. He has trailblazed a new path incorporating social media as a platform to teach chemistry and connect with the next generation of scientists.
To encourage the next generation of future scientists to pursue chemistry, there needs to be some serious revamping within our educational institutions. As a first-generation college student and current American Chemical Society (ACS) Bridge Fellow, I have experienced racism, imposter syndrome, and ample adversities throughout my academic journey. I have always had a passion for learning but have found myself disconnected from my classes because of the adversities I have experienced. I noted that the majority of STEM material I had been exposed to needed to be more inclusive and more representative of myself and my culture, which would make this material more engaging. I am a Black and Filipino (Asian/Pacific Islander) woman who grew up in an underrepresented, underserved, and marginalized community. I can personally attest to the lack of gender and racial diversity within my classrooms, educational material, and even in the scientific community. For example, throughout my academic career, I have only had one professor of color. Based on my experience, I was inspired to help address the gap between PEERs and STEM interests, which will contribute to a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive scientific community.
And how am I doing so you may ask? Sneaker culture.
Sneaker culture, aka “Shoe game,” is an influential and extensive cultural focus amongst the PEERs community. Shoe game refers to footwear, specifically sneakers, and its impacts on fashion, athletics, and musical trends. For example, Nike Air Force Ones are a very popular sneaker and were first promoted with the sneaker anthem, “Air Force Ones,” by Nelly in the early 2000s. Nelly raps, “(I said) give me two pairs, (‘cause) I need two pairs, (so I) can get to stompin’ in my Air Force Ones, Big boys stompin’ in my Air Force Ones.” To this day, his music and these sneakers still have cultural influence and are promoted by other artists. Teaching STEAM material using hip-hop culture pedagogy has recently been introduced as an approach to teaching a variety of subjects.
My research encompasses a variety of hip-hop and chemistry concepts. It allows me to combine elements of my interest in sneakers, cultural background, and passion for learning and education as an approach to teaching chemistry. In the field of chemistry, there are many specialized divisions, including Analytical Chemistry, Materials Chemistry, Chemical Education, Organic Chemistry, Physical Chemistry, etc. However, many of these divisional subjects are taught with foundational material that was not originally designed to be inclusive, diverse, or accessible to students from various backgrounds.
Incorporating inclusive pedagogy for my project, I use hip-hop and fashion trends by highlighting sneakers while combining art and chemistry. For my research, I’ve designed a series of hands-on STEAM activities and curricula that will introduce educators to various General, Polymer, and Materials found in sneakers. I will teach these STEAM activities in the form of STEAM sneaker art workshops in which students will go through a series of lessons and learn about the different components of sneakers and their relationship to chemistry. Through these hands-on STEAM activities, students will be introduced to an advanced level of chemistry before they get to college. These activities are important because underrepresented, underserved, and marginalized communities do not have exposure to specialized sciences.
Additionally, students will create and design their own STEAM Sneaker art allowing students to be creative and interact with science through the lens of art. My research has allowed me to be inventive and innovative, with the bonus of pioneering a new way to teach STEAM material in the classroom. My self-designed research project will offer students an exciting and novel opportunity to connect their interests to art and chemistry. My passions and past experiences motivated me to want to make a change in the science-teaching curriculum, and through this project, I can contribute to making that change.
I want to inspire others through my work to find and develop creative ways to incorporate parts of their culture, interests, and passions into their respective fields. Interdisciplinary work is gaining popularity and should be a focal point for teaching STEAM subjects. I intend to encourage other current and future creative scientists to incorporate multiple disciplines into their research. The world is full of amazing things and people. Still, as a scientific community, for us to show up for, serve, and hold space for extended communities, there needs to be greater room for collaboration amongst different fields, which will lead to a more diverse, inclusive, and equitable learning environment for all to succeed.