NEW ORLEANS, LA — Mason was a seventh grader. His dad, Dr. Calvin Mackie, was an icon in STEM education. A former mechanical engineering professor at Tulane University, Dr. Mackie had started STEM NOLA, a popular initiative that brought STEM (science, technology, education and math) education into the heart of urban communities. As long as he could remember, Mason was an active participant in those events, building rockets, making science kits, applying the laws of physics to everyday life. But suddenly, it wasn’t fun for him anymore.
“When STEM NOLA first started, I was going to all the events. It was all coming easy to me because I had been doing STEM activities at home with my dad,” Mason says. “Growing up with my dad, STEM has always been important and enforced in this household. Since my birth, we used to always play with erector sets as a kid, and magnet sets. At this one event when I was in the seventh grade, we were making science kits and I decided that I just didn’t want to do it. I remember going home and telling my dad, ‘I just don’t see myself doing this. I feel like I’m wasting my time. I don’t want to participate today.’”
It was a turning point for father and son.
Dad was like, ‘What do you mean?’’’ Mason recalls. Initially, Mason says, his father didn’t understand how he could not want to participate. Afterall, STEM NOLA started in their garage when Mason and his older brother, Myles, did science activities with Dr. Mackie and children from the neighborhood joined in. But their conversation had a profound effect. It spurred Dr. Mackie to make STEM NOLA programs engaging for a wider range of children, not just those interested in STEM. And it changed forever Mason’s relationship with STEM.
“Dad really started to re-evaluate what he was doing with STEM NOLA,” Mason says. “The next two days, he brought me to his room, told me there would be changes at STEM NOLA and that I would become a spokesman for STEM.”
Today, the child who wanted to use his voice has transformed into an engaging high school junior, who is excelling in the classroom, at basketball and in theater.
From an early age, Mason was traveling down two paths. He attended summer STEM camps, but he also enjoyed theater and drama programs. The compromise reached with his father had him delivering opening speeches at STEM NOLA events, as well as appearing on television shows and on their STEM Saturday videos.
Dr. Mackie acknowledges he was shocked at first. So much of the family’s lives had resolved around STEM. His oldest son, Myles, is at Howard University on course to be a mechanical engineer. His wife, Tracy, is a pharmacist. “It was a learning experience, for sure,” says Dr. Mackie. “I love my sons. I had to open my eyes to see that Mason would be using STEM differently from the rest of the family. But it was a great thing. This experience helped me develop programming that for other kids who had interests that were adjacent to STEM.”