Stars of STEM: Danforth Center is Empowering the Leaders of Tomorrow
Where is St. Louis headed? No one can say for certain because the future of our region is up for us to decide. In the face of all that we don’t know, we can take comfort in the things we do: our strengths, our potential, and most of all, our people.
Our strengths are obvious: St. Louis is the global hub of agtech innovation. More and more companies are being brought to life here, and others from around the world are flocking to build their nest in our backyard. Because of this, our potential is also clear: new business brings new jobs. But in 2018 alone, 2.4 million STEM related jobs went unfilled in the United States for lack of skilled workers. We must expand our talent pipeline to continue our progress and propel our region forward.
How? By supporting those with the talent, drive, and ambition to succeed: the people in our own community.
A Meaningful Investment
At the Danforth Center, we believe education is at the heart of a brighter future. That’s why we invest in the young minds in our region through a wide array of outreach programs designed to educate and inspire the scientific leaders of tomorrow.
These programs include equitable STEM education opportunities for K-12 students, mentorship and training for graduate students, and internship opportunities for undergraduate and high school students.
This past summer, the Danforth Center’s internship program had a profound effect on the lives of two such high-schoolers, Michai and Alex*, and ultimately changed the course of their lives.
Michai Hubbard had a vision for his future—one that didn’t involve plant science. Having received a football scholarship from Kentucky State University, the 18-year-old from East St. Louis anticipated a career involving more field goals than field trials.
But as he was preparing to head off to KSU this past summer, one big question remained: what was he going to major in? To find an answer, Michai decided to participate in the Danforth Center’s internship program funded through a Neighborhood Builders grant from Bank of America.
Working in the lab of Dr. James Umen, and armed only with a general interest in science, Michai delved deep into his work and contributed to a project aimed at getting a better understanding of plant biology that could help farmers grow better, heathier crops. As he helped discover new insights into how plants function, Michai also discovered new insights about himself.
In terms of my career, this event helped me see things differently…while providing me with endless opportunities.
2022 Danforth Center Intern
He found a keen passion for plant science—in particular, studying the vast diversity of natural life. As his internship came to an end, Michai decided he would major in agribusiness. In the meantime, Michai has been invited to continue his scientific journey at the Danforth Center by returning as an NSF-funded Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) student next year.
“When I reflect on my internship at the Danforth Center, I can't help but notice how much of an impact it had on my life,” Michai said. “It was a really, really good experience.”
This past summer, when he walked through the doors of the Danforth Center for the first time, Alex had been home insecure for more than a year. After coming out to his family, he found himself homeless leaving him with only a duffle bag of belongings. Rather than continue his continue his high school studies, Alex was instead planning on dropping out to take on a management position at a fast-food restaurant. He came to the Danforth Center as an intern hoping to learn “office skills” that would help him succeed in this new role.
Upon hearing his story, the Danforth Center’s Education Research and Outreach lab designed a custom internship for Alex, funded through a grant from Boeing, to hone and develop his talents. Working with the lab, he gained experience in project management, leadership, communication, and administration duties.
Through it all, the EROL team supported Alex’s journey of discovery about the value of education and helped him see a different life for himself. By the end of summer, Alex decided he would not only complete his high school education, but that he also wanted to further explore a career in STEM in the future. And as he continues on his new path in life, he will also have a place to call home, as the team was able to assist in finding stable housing.
Alex went from having a future as a high school dropout without a home to being on a professional track that can lead him to independence.
Kristine Callis-Duehl, PhD
Sally and Derick Driemeyer Director of Education Research and Outreach
Join Us in Building a Brighter Future
The Grow Challenge Week of Giving (Sept. 19 - 23) is an online peer-to-peer giving campaign, spearheaded by the Danforth Center Young Friends, to support our regional STEM education initiatives. Early donations are being accepted now. Click here to learn more or donate today.