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Program connects BIPOC youth to STEM careers amid diversity shortage

A nationally recognized program that started in Washington state introduces Black, Indigenous, and youth of color to careers in STEM and the arts.

SEATTLE — Careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) are abundant in the Pacific Northwest, but diversity in these fields is low.

The Pew Research Center reports Black Americans make up just 9% of STEM jobs, and Hispanics make up just 8%.

Deena Pierott is the executive director of iUrban Teen, a nationally recognized organization that started in Washington state. The program introduces Black, Indigenous, and youth of color to careers in STEM and the arts.

"There is diversity within the industry, but it's some of the lower-level positions," explained Pierott.

"When these organizations make their human capital as important as their sales figures, that's when we know that we are really thriving and moving forward," Pierott continued.

iUrban Teen is just one of many organizations working to invoke change by introducing youth to STEM.

"When I hear them say, and this is more times than not, ‘I felt valued.’ When I hear them say that, that's when I know we hit the mark," said Pierott.

Pierott does believe an awakening in 2020 with the Black Lives Matter movement and the death of George Floyd sparked change.

"You do see more people in higher-level positions being promoted, and I hope that continues, and that's not just the honeymoon phase of George Floyd," she said. "We've got some barriers to move and shift, but it's happening."

For 10 years, iUrban Teen has been making an impact in the lives of BIPOC youth, more recently, with virtual events and online classes during the pandemic.

The program has served over 10,000 youth with 80% retention. Many have also graduated college with STEM careers.

"I think that with this next generation coming up, that this whole workspace, tech space, and others [are] going to be more diverse and in good positions not just you know, frontline staff," said Pierott.