Dr. Bia Hamed, the Director of K-12 STEM Outreach with GameAbove College of Engineering and Technology at Eastern Michigan University, has spent her life making STEM more inclusive.
STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics.
“I have been in a position of promoting females in STEM for 20 years,” Hamed said. “Early in my career, my position was to promote non-traditional careers for women—and men—at a local community college. I did this by offering grants for those who qualify. For example, women who wanted to study non-traditional majors for their gender like women in technology, engineering or something in the trades.”
According to the National Science Foundation, underrepresented groups in STEM include women, African Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, and persons with disabilities.
At EMU, Hamed has been promoting STEM to women and girls of all ages, ethnicities, races, and socioeconomic backgrounds for 12 years. One of the ways she does this is through the Digital Divas program.
“Today, I would say Digital Divas is a movement, where we are building a culture of females supporting females in STEM spaces,” Hamed said. “Originally Digital Divas began as a day-long conference where high school girls from SE Michigan would come and explore various STEM careers and subjects through hands-on breakout sessions on the campus of Eastern Michigan University. As we still host multiple conferences today, we have grown to offer so many opportunities for the promotion of post-secondary education in STEM fields.”
Hamed also has created a podcast for girls that features college women in STEM majors called “A Road to Her Future.”
“In my podcast, girls hear from college women who have been successful in their majors and give stories of their success,” said Hamed. “They also provide really good advice for girls who are considering a STEM major and career.”
Furthermore, through a partnership with the Michigan Learning Channel, a spinoff of Detroit Public TV, she helped create a television series named “The Future of Me.” In this show, through 30-minute episodes, girls learn about various STEM careers.
“These are careers that are in-demand and well paying, but where women are a minority,” Hamed said. “The program is to show girls the vast array of STEM jobs that are possible for them”
She also created an all-girl esports team in Ypsilanti and Detroit.
“During the pandemic, I created an esports team for a high school that is located on campus to give girls an opportunity to embrace STEM in a nontraditional way,” Hamed said. “This opportunity gave girls a laptop of their very own as well as a gaming mouse and headset. Girls were able to play other high school teams all over the nation. You may ask why gaming? Well, this is a great way to get girls to build their leadership skills, communication skills, and technology skills, and sharpen their critical thinking and problem-solving skills. For high school girls, this is a real niche sport since only about 30% of online gaming is done by girls-real minority issue. In addition, the college scholarship opportunities for girls in gaming are great, and this can help make higher education more accessible.”
However, Hamed believes that boys must also be included in the equation for greater STEM equity. In 2019, Hamed and her team began offering a program to build a pipeline for STEM education for boys named Digital Dudes.
“During the 2023-2024 school year, we are planning to host two Digital Dudes programs,” Hamed said. “We will have high school students in the fall, and middle school students in the spring. This program was created to address the digital divide. Way too many of our students are not exposed to the various in-demand and well-paying careers available to them in the future, and unfortunately, we are not producing enough skilled, high-tech professionals to keep up with the demand of our region. By hosting programs like this, focusing on boys, we hope to build a pipeline.”
Hamed stated they expanded their program to include more girls as well for other areas needing more STEM exposure.
“We expanded the program to include a special conference for middle school girls,” Hamed said. “Research proves it is at the middle school level where girls lose interest in STEM subjects. Soon after we began the program we adapted a middle school girl’s program. I also partnered with the Mr. October Foundation during the COVID pandemic to promote STEM education for middle schoolers in some of our underfunded schools to provide solid learning opportunities for those with little to no resources.”
Hamed said they work with any school that is interested, giving their students a real campus STEM experience.
Typically, any school that is within an hour away from EMU is willing to visit the campus.
“As you would expect, Digital Divas and Digital Dudes are the hot tickets in town, Hamed said. “These programs are free for their participants, thanks to all the sponsors. We are always left with an extensive waiting list of students who want access, but because of building codes on campus, we cannot exceed a certain number of students at each event.”
Hamed stated that she hosts both urban and rural schools on campus and oftentimes, these college visits are the first time these students visit a campus. She tries first and foremost to foster an environment of belonging.
“This opportunity gives students an advantage because they get to see a real campus, classrooms, labs, and even dorm rooms,” said Hamed. “During their visit, they meet faculty and college students who volunteer to work on a hands-on project with the high schoolers. In addition, the high school students get a campus tour, visit the dorms, and have lunch in one of our eateries to give them a real feel of what campus life is like.
Hamed offered some advice to parents.
“Don’t set limits on children,” she said. “You can provide opportunities for kids to explore and learn without limits. Seek out and find programs that allow children to explore various STEM subjects by offering hands-on learning. Schools have limited resources and do not always allow for the best learning opportunities when it comes to STEM subjects, but there are a lot of low-cost and free programs out there that are free for kids. “
She also has advice for the STEM industry that would like to hire a more diverse and high-skilled workforce as well.
“Partnering with a high educational institution can change the trajectory of tomorrow’s workforce,” she said. “With my industry partners, I am able to do so much because of their support. I am able to create a place of comfort and belonging for middle and high school students on a college campus as well as around STEM subjects. It takes both industry and high ed, as a team, to build the pipeline of the next generation of STEM talent and conquer the digital divide.”