“SMASH” Disparities in STEM Education by Leveling the Playing Field

On March 22, 2021, SMASH CEO, Eli Kennedy, was interviewed by Denver Fredrick, host of the Business of Giving. Eli discusses how SMASH is leveling the playing field in STEM education.

Launched in partnership with UC Berkeley, Mitch and Freada created a program, that we now know as SMASH, that would help serve students of color and prepare them for an education in STEM. Eli states, “We needed to level the playing field for students of color, students from underrepresented communities who are getting into STEM, so that those students have the same enrichment opportunities, the same summer programming, the same types of supports, the same community that folks were paying for when they lived in affluent communities.”

Leveling the Playing Field

Currently, there is still a lack of diversity and inclusion in STEM careers, especially pertaining to people of color and women. A major contributing factor to this is the lack of educational opportunities for low-income students in their communities. These students are not being given the same quality of education, teachers, and exposure that are available to students at prominent schools. The knowledge and interest is not being cultivated in the same ways, “So you could literally have the next Einstein sitting in West Oakland, and their family may not have the resources to continually cultivate that genius in the same way that a young child in Atherton who is recognized as having an interest in STEM…”

SMASH is tackling these disparities by providing a holistic education, immersing their scholars in a college environment for three whole summers of their high school career, and supporting them into STEM careers. SMASH Academy provides scholars the opportunities to pursue their interests in STEM, cultivating their skills through classes and workshops. 

SMASH is able to expose students to different careers by surrounding them with SMASH’s network who they can identify with and find representation within STEM. Eli explains, “We want our young people to be able to be resilient and traverse these highly competitive STEM environments.” Students are able to be solution-oriented, learning concepts and applying them to influence their world.

Pivoting into Virtual Education

When COVID-19 began, the world was filled with many unknowns. SMASH president, Danielle Rose, and curriculum director, Zorel Zambrano, worked diligently with the entire team to pivot and adapt to a new way of virtual learning during a world-wide pandemic. SMASH was able to shrink its student-to-teacher-ratio, allowing for a more personalized learning experience, collaboration time, and increased engagement. Students also participated in regional pitch competitions where they were able to present the apps they built, providing additional incentive and drove up interest.

Being virtual has provided opportunities to our students that were not a priority before. Through distance learning, scholars have been able to break through geographical barriers and create connections across the nation, bridging the gap between our California and Midwest students.

STEM Education through a Social Justice Lens

SMASH is focused on connecting young people through STEM to drive change within their community. After the death of George Floyd, we empowered our students to build racial justice solutions using STEM. When it comes to social justice, we want to show our students that they have the power to change things and drive a huge impact by being solution-oriented. Eli explains, “We always want to be building, trying to figure out: How do we improve things rather than simply saying, “This is bad.”? We want to say, “This is bad, and this is what I think I can do about it.”

Learn more and listen to the interview. Click here.