Group aims to increase minority participation


A group of a dozen high school students met at the Waldorf West library last week to discuss their future careers in business, medicine and law, among others. The group of motivated teens hope their participation will increase their chances of getting into college, thereby launching them into lucrative careers.

“Everyone here has the same mindset,” Aqsa Siddique, 16, of Waldorf said of the Young Researchers Community Project, YRCP, group. “They all want to get involved and gain a better sense and knowledge of the world.”

YRCP is a part of STEAM Onward Inc., a nonprofit group that aims to increase the number of minority and underserved youth pursuing higher education in STEM related fields, such as science, technology, engineering, mathematics, in addition to the arts.

The group began around 1989 when Bonita Adeeb, executive director, and Alland Leandre, board member, started having conversations about what local students could actively do to pursue their STEM interests and create effective change in their communities. They started a counter marketing strategy to encourage people to stop smoking which led to other campaigns geared towards environmental and other health issues.

“What could we do to help poorly achieving kids of color in Southern Maryland? How do you get them to see that school is useful and about them?” Adeeb said she asked at the beginning of the group’s inception. “These are things kids can educate the community about.”

Leandre said the group uses handson activities to convey concepts and encourage the students to be excited about learning.

“The time they have in the classroom is sufficient for some things, but not all things,” Leandre said. “We’re bringing back the use of tools and project based learning, literally putting their hands in the dirt if it’s a gardening activity.”

In addition to creating an anti-vaping public service announcement that has been shown in local movie theaters, the group is joining forces with the family of Kris “Romeo” Bishundat, a Thomas Stone High School alum and member of the United States Navy who was killed at the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, to host the fifth annual 9-11 Memorial 5K Road Race and Fun Walk in Bishundat’s memory.

Santesia Ababio, 17, of Waldorf and Siddique agreed that the community service opportunities available through the group have been enjoyable and bene- ficial to them in their future endeavors.

“[STEAM Onward] is something good to do if you don’t know how to spend your summer or if you don’t know what you want to do for a career or haven’t applied to any colleges yet,” Ababio said.

The students are also plugged into internships with local businesses, such as law offices and doctor’s offices, that correlate with their future career plans.

Migue Darcera, 16, of Waldorf hopes to pursue a career in medicine and is shadowing an orthopedic surgeon over the summer. Darcera said the experience has taught him how a doctor properly talks to patients and furthered his interest to work in cardiology and help others.

After working at her internship at the University of Maryland Charles Regional Medical Center, Ababio said she sees her future going a slightly different direction.

“When I started this program I wanted to be a nurse but now I’m more open to radiology and I want to open my own practice,” Ababio said.

Ababio said she became interested in STEAM Onward after hearing about it in school and wanted to take advantage of the healthcare internship opportunities that were available.

Leandre said an internship with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration — an opportunity that he only applied for because his teacher told him to — was what “set off lightbulbs” for him as to what his future career could be. A product of Washington D.C. public schools and parents who didn’t go to college, Leandre is now the CEO of Vyalex Management Solutions, a government contracting firm focusing on technology and acquisition management.

Now, STEAM Onward partners with a number of businesses and organizations in the area that offer expertise and opportunity to determined students. Leandre said he hopes to start a new technology summit sponsored and designed by the corporate community “because they’re the ones who are doing the work and see what the need is.”

“The U.S. is losing the fight in global competitiveness and it’s much easier to grow that talent here,” Leandre said. “For years we were leading in every area … we’re not necessarily in a position where the next big thing would come from here. It’s bad for us because our economy is based on our ability to innovate. Investing in these kids is ultimately what will sustain our economy and quality of life.”

Leandre said the Southern Maryland area has the capacity to create something big and an effort to educate students in these careers and keep them working locally will create a nice place to live.

“Why not grow our own geniuses?” he said.