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S.T.E.A.M Fair powers up youths’ career aspirations

JEFF-VANDER-LOU – It was full steam ahead for about 300 youths Saturday as the local chapter of the National Coalition of 100 Black Women assembled its third annual S.T.E.A.M. Fair at Herbert Hoovers Boys and Girls Club, 2901 N. Grand Ave. 

The youths were introduced to interests and careers related to science, technology, engineering, arts and math, which make up the acronym S.T.E.A.M.

Gateway Greening had earthworms on hand. Children took flight via Boeing’s flight simulator. A Pfizer scientist taught and allowed youths to execute an experiment with test tubes and balloons. A staffer from the new National Geospatial Intelligence Agency gave turns in photogrammetry, in which youngsters used a small scope to remotely measure the height of an object. 

“They don’t get to see a lot of these things in school, so what other time will they get to see this?” asked Katrina Kerr, president, National Coalition 100 Black Women, Inc. – Metropolitan St. Louis Chapter. 

“If they don’t see it, they don’t know the possibilities, and they might also be able to determine what they want to be,” Kerr continued, noting that she liked to see young people having fun while learning.

Other presenters at the fair were Smart Kidz Inc., the Challenger Learning Center, Proficient Chiropractic, Girls Inc., Bricks 4 Kids and the St. Louis Science Center. 

“There’s a lot of information. It really intrigued me,” said music enthusiast Terrence Cannon, who attends St. Louis Public Schools.  

Attendees interested in the arts first had an orientation and were split into groups based on their interests. Workshops in art included acting, dance and graphic art. 

A group of excited girls interested in acting dashed to a room where local actress Jazmine Wade eagerly awaited them.

To her surprise, none of the girls, nearly 20 of them, had heard of Sidney Poitier, or the film adaptation of “Raisin in the Sun,” in which he famously starred in 1961.

Poitier, a critically acclaimed actor was nominated for an Oscar for the role, his second nomination in two years. Then in 1964, he became the first black actor to win the Oscar as Best Actor in “Lilies of the Field.”

“Oh, my goodness,” Wade said in her disbelief that the none of the participants had knowledge of the famed actor or popular play or its movie adaptation. 

She then summarized the story line and plot and told the girls she had portrayed one of the major characters in an area production of the play just last year. 

After that lesson, she taught the girls acting techniques, particularly method acting, in which they had to draw upon their own life experiences for depth.  

They also performed exercises such “zip, zap, zop.” The exercise helps actors pay attention to and focus on cues such as sound and lighting. 

The girls were then divided into two groups and challenged to create silent sketches to perform in such a way as to make them understandable to the audience. 

“It’s like charades,” one girl said. 

Coincidentally, both groups of girls created skits involving vehicles. One portrayal was a bad car accident in which the girls went flying. The other group enacted the bold bus ride and arrest of civil rights icon Rosa Parks. 

“I’m very impressed,” Wade said of both groups of girls, before critiquing their depictions. 

The two groups then engaged in a physical exercise with a game of tug-of-war with a make-believe rope.   

“Young African-American girls can see and participate in things they inspire to be,” said Erika Gentry, education chair for 100 Black Women. 

Pfizer research scientist Chante Summers, who facilitated a demonstration with students, said that representation, education and exposure were all important for formative youths. 

“As a woman of color, we are not always represented, so it’s important to engage our kids,” Summers said. 

Kendra Scruggs, a parent, added, “Sometimes, being African-American, we don’t know all of the career paths, but events like this let the kids see that the possibilities are endless.” 

She said her son might as well learn how video games work, because he plays them so much.

“If you take what you love and learn how to do it well, you can get paid well for it,” Scruggs said.  

Raina Green, a freshman at Principia School, said, “It’s cool that they’re doing this. I don’t usually get to do this, but it’s really interesting.”

Bill Beene

bill.beene@thenorthsider.com Bill Beene was born and raised in north St. Louis. He has been a journalist for 12 years. He enjoys cooking and roller skating. He lives in the historic Ville neighborhood.

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