Local students selected to attend White House conference on STEM Education for Youth of Color

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LHISD students, James Mixson (left) and Prescott Mixson (right) will attend the Inclusive STEM Education for Youth of Color conference at The White House on Oct 28. (Sarah Silberstein Photo)

LHISD students, James Mixson (left) and Prescott Mixson (right) will attend the Inclusive STEM Education for Youth of Color conference at The White House on Oct 28. (Sarah Silberstein Photo)

By SARAH SILBERSTEIN

Two Liberty Hill students have been invited to attend a conference at The White House on Inclusive STEM Education for Youth of Color through their involvement with Changing Expectations.

James Mixson, a 14-year-old freshman at Liberty Hill High School, and his brother, Prescott Mixson, an 11-year-old sixth grader at Liberty Hill Intermediate School, along with eight other students from central Texas will travel to Washington, D.C. to attend the conference Friday, Oct. 28.

Changing Expectations is a nonprofit organization founded in 2009 with the mission of “inspiring STEM academic achievement and career interest for African-American, Hispanic, and other traditionally underserved students.”

“Changing Expectations focuses on providing STEM programs out of school for under-represented students in the Austin area,” the organization’s founder, Dr. Phillip Eaglin, said.

Tonya Mixson, the boys’ mother, learned about the program from a co-worker whose son had been previously involved with Changing Expectations.

The Mixson family recently moved to the Liberty Hill area from Virginia where James had participated in the robotics program at his elementary school.

“When I found out about the program, I was like, ‘Wow, really? Let’s get them started with that,’” she said.

The program meets once a month at the George Washington Carver Branch of the Austin Public Library in East Austin and pairs participants with mentors to complete hands-on projects.

“We work on different projects with programming,” James said. At the last meeting, “my brother worked on programming games and I was working on a weather satellite.”

“We also got to program a robot to go through obstacles,” added Prescott.

When Dr. Eaglin was invited to The White House to attend the Inclusive STEM Education for Youth of Color conference, he asked if he could bring some of the students involved in Changing Expectations with him.

The conference provided an opportunity for Eaglin “to make an opportunity for kids” and to allow the students’ voices to be heard, he said.

The conference is hosted by the White House Council on Women and Girls, the My Brother’s Keeper Initiative and the Office of Science and Technology Policy in partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy and the National Math and Science Initiative.

The purpose of the conference is to address persistent opportunity gaps faced by students in traditionally under-represented groups with the goal of ensuring all young people have the ability to reach their full potential.

“[The conference] will feature break out sessions where participants will be able to share the ideas about STEM for students of color, identify obstacles, map out solutions, and determine what actions we plan to take,” Eaglin said.

Organizations like Changing Expectations are working diligently to close these gaps by providing a platform in which to engage traditionally under-served youth with science, technology, engineering and mathematics through mentorship and hands-on activities.

“People might perceive the program as a feel-good program to help under-served communities,” said the boys’ father, James Mixson IV. “In reality, it’s a way we can ensure America’s prominence in the global marketplace.”

Employment in STEM related fields grew by 7.9 percent from 2000-2010. In comparison, employment in non-STEM related fields grew by 2.6 percent in the same period. The U.S. Department of Commerce predicts employment in STEM related fields will grow an additional 17 percent by 2018.

“The problem that is happening today is there is a severe shortage of minorities in those career fields,” Tonya Mixson said. “When you are of a certain socio-economic group, you don’t have access to certain things and what this program is doing is allowing an avenue for those resources to be tapped.”

The National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering says that African Americans, Latinos and Native Americans currently comprise 30 percent of the U.S. population, but accounted for just 12.5 percent of the number of bachelor’s degrees earned in engineering in 2011.

“The minority population is going to become the majority and what you don’t want to happen is to not be able to take advantage of more than half your workforce,” James Mixson IV said. “It is very important that America utilizes all of its potential.”

James and Prescott say that their involvement with Changing Expectations has exposed them to a lot of different options in the STEM professions.

James hopes to pursue a career in health science to be able to help doctors and patients through technological advancements. Prescott wants to pursue a profession in robotics to help improve the lives of people though technology.

“You never know if someone has a talent where they could help out and improve people’s lives,” Prescott said about why programs like Changing Expectations are so important.

The Inclusive STEM Education for Youth of Color conference will conclude with a town hall meeting where participants will be able to interact with individuals from NASA and The White House.

In addition to the conference, Eaglin, James, Prescott, and the other representatives with Changing Expectations will tour the National Museum of African American History and Culture, the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial, and other official sites in Washington D.C.

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