Dr. Calvin Mackie
A 15-year old kid excels in all subjects in school except science. He hates everything about it—from the periodic table to the seemingly 50-year old experiments. What’s ironic is both of his parents have a background in science. His mother is a pharmacist, and father is a mechanical engineer—a mechanical engineer who holds a patent currently licensed by Boeing, nonetheless. So science is in his blood—literally and figuratively. So what does a successful mechanical engineer do when his son has no interest in science? You guessed it; he helps him learn to love it. Dad began doing science experiments with his son in their garage. He bought chemistry and biology kits for his son to learn by doing. Eventually they transformed the garage into their very own science laboratory. As a result, the son’s science grades began to improve. Before long, curious about the work going on the garage, other kids from the neighborhood started coming over—and they too participated in fun science projects.
As the story goes, dad began to think, “I’m fortunate enough to be able to provide hands-on learning for my son; but what about other kids who aren’t as fortunate? What about those who don’t come from a family of scientists who have access to these types of resources? How can I take what I’m doing in this garage and bring it to every kid, especially those from disadvantaged communities or those who have never been exposed to science, engineering, technology or mathematics in a fun and interesting way?”
The father in this story is Morehouse alum, Dr. Calvin Mackie. He turned a garage learning experience for his son into STEM NOLA, a fast-growing education nonprofit serving students in New Orleans. STEM NOLA designs and delivers STEM-related activities, programs and events to children across the city. The programs expose children to the possibilities that STEM offers—from 21st century career opportunities in STEM to how it is used in everyday life and how STEM can be used to improve communities. STEM NOLA provides varied programs including after-school enrichment programs and camps for students; family learning programs for families; and even professional development and STEM demonstrations for teachers and school administrators.
Just as a college education is oftentimes the prerequisite for entry into the best and fastest-growing careers, having skills in STEM allows students the ability to infuse real life projects in real world application—essential to 21st century career success. While HBCUs award an average of 32% of STEM degrees earned by black students, STEM careers overwhelmingly lack diversity. STEM NOLA and other similar programs across the country are up to the challenge, introducing African American youth to STEM curriculum early in their K-12 education experience.
Students enrolled in STEM NOLA learn about 3D printing, coding, technology, robotics, animation, 3D modeling, app development, gaming and more. STEM NOLA programming is free to all students eligible for free and reduced-price meals.
And, be on the lookout for the great things STEM NOLA is doing in the Crescent City. The organization recently announced a partnership with Grambling University and Sodexo Magic to create STEM Grambling. Earlier this year, STEM NOLA was awarded a one-year $140k grant from WK Kellogg Foundation to enhance the organization’s vision to bring STEM education to the children of New Orleans via curated curriculum and train providers and teachers to teach STEM.
Dr. Mackie, STEM NOLA founder, is an inventor, former tenured engineering professor, entrepreneur and author. He credits his career success to his choice to attend Morehouse College saying, “I’ve been born three times—through my mother, through my career and through Morehouse. I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing if I hadn’t gone to Morehouse—a college committed to success.”
Mackie continues, “I had a professor who sat me down and spoke it into me that I could earn a Ph.D. He even called me a doctor before I even knew I could BE a doctor. I was in an environment that saw my deficiencies and saw a pathway for me to move forward. HBCUs put black students in a place where they can learn and be equipped to survive in the world—and that’s what Morehouse did for me.”
Mackie earned a bachelor of mathematics from Morehouse and went on to earn both a master’s and Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from Georgia Tech. Mackie also served as an instructor of mathematics at Morehouse College while pursuing his doctoral degree. While tenured at Tulane University, Mackie researched heat transfer, energy efficiency and renewable energy. His memoir, A View from the Roof: Lessons for Life and Business, has been adapted as course material by high school teachers and college professors.
He is a lifelong resident of New Orleans, where he and his wife Tracy are the proud parents of two sons. Mackie continues to advocate for empowering young people and through speaking engagements, continues to motivate corporations across the globe.
This article originally appeared in the 2020 Winter Edition of HBCU Times magazine.
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