By Cillea Houghton
NASHVILLE, TN — Students at Pearl-Cohn High School were enlightened to STEAM opportunities (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) through the Young Enterprising Women Mentoring Forum. Created by the Enterprising Women Foundation, the forum takes place in cities across the country, connecting high school students with female entrepreneurs and STEAM advocates in their communities. “We chose Pearl-Cohn because they’ve got a fantastic school,” said DevMar Products President and CEO Sharon Reynolds, who sponsored the event in Nashville for the first time. “They already have a STEM program and they’re very innovative in their approach as it relates to teaching their students.”
Nearly 70 students participated in the forum that featured a panel discussion and group activities with community leaders such as the Director of Development at the National Museum of African American Music LoLita Toney, Associate Professor at Belmont University
Lakisha Simmons and civil engineer at the U.S. Department of Interior Latonya Gordon. “I immediately made the call because I understood from taking some ladies to previous STEM opportunities the interest and the need for it, especially with our young minority girls,” said Pearl-Cohn Academy Coach Brittany Edmondson. “They needed to have someone in front of them who looked like them, who has accomplished something that they were aspiring to, or who could show them something that they had never even seen before. To put them face to face with women who had paved their own way in a non-traditional career pathway as far as STEM and STEAM and that movement, that was important.”
Edmondson recognizes the direct impact the event had on the students, instilling them with skills such as critical thinking, professionalism and the value of mentorship, along with the confidence to pursue STEAM careers. “The momentum’s still there,” she said, adding that some of the students have maintained contact with the panelists. “Just to know that our young ladies have this excitement about being able to go out there and take advantage of these career fields and that they too can do it is so important.”
“There’s nothing out of their reach, that was one of the key messages,” added Reynolds, who plans to bring the forum to other schools in Nashville. “We want them to have a global mindset is what we were really trying to challenge these young ladies with. We’ve got to show our women who are coming up right now that they too can make a difference.”
One of the students impacted by the event is senior Ronae Briley, who received a $2,000 scholarship from DevMar to attend the Enterprising Women National Conference in Florida in March. Briley was awarded the scholarship by her peers after submitting an essay detailing her accomplishments, including how she started her own business in 7th grade and is passionate about ending mass incarceration, working to start the Don’t Jail My Color Movement. A self-described “STEM girl,” Briley plans to study computer science and coding in college. Her experience at the Enterprising Women forum inspired her to continue reaching for her goals.
“It just reassured me that I’m moving in the right track. It gave me a confidence I needed to push forward in computer science,” Briley said. “I think it helped me grow by seeing other people take a path that I was interested in taking. As I heard those women speak about their role in STEM, I think I knew I had a place there too.”