( ENSPIRE She Did That ) Educator and Children’s Author LaTanya Brooks is Empowering Young People from Underrepresented Groups to Pursue STEM Careers
ENSPIRE Contributor: Sophia Kang
A Houston educator is taking a creative approach to raising STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) awareness in her own classroom and beyond. LaTanya Brooks launched her ongoing children’s book series, Grow With STEM, in 2017 to inspire curiosity about STEM among students of color and students with disabilities—two groups significantly underrepresented in the STEM industries. So far, the series includes two books: Marisol: A Little Girl with a Big Dream and Adam Baum: The Autistic Engineer.
Both of Brooks’ protagonists, Marisol, a young Latina girl, and Adam, a boy with autism, are from groups underrepresented in STEM. Marisol dreams of becoming an environmental chemist, while Adam dreams of becoming a mechanical engineer. And while Marisol must convince her mother that her “grand plans” are far from just daydreams, Adam is determined to prove to his peers that what makes him “different” (his autism) won’t stop him from becoming the next engineering mastermind. Brooks hopes that Marisol’s and Adam’s journeys, based on true stories, will encourage young students of all abilities and racial and ethnic backgrounds to pursue careers in STEM.
ENSPIRE spoke with LaTanya Brooks about why she’s passionate about education and raising STEM awareness:
What inspired you to pursue a career in education?
I was transitioning in my career while attending classes for my MBA. My career as a teacher started off as a temporary means to an end. I had just left a dead-end job to pursue a job in teaching. The plan was to teach as I was continuing to earn a degree in business. This seemed perfect since I love kids and I love helping people. These little humans proved to be irresistible, and I fell in love with the profession. Finishing what I started, I graduated with an MBA in Business Management. It was not hard for me to develop multifaceted ideas to satisfy my diverse interests and skill sets. I developed and still manage a few side-businesses while I continue to educate and help others develop theirs.
Why STEM? What is so valuable about a STEM education, and how many people with disabilities and people of color—especially women of color—are represented in STEM industries?
Jobs in STEM fields are the fastest-growing highest-paid careers. However, recruiters are having a hard time filling these positions with qualified candidates. Although women make up nearly half of the workforce, only about 28% are in STEM fields. Out of the 28%, only 4% are Latinas and less than 3% are Black. Minorities are underrepresented in STEM careers. Over 80% of adults with autism remain unemployed or underemployed despite the unique perspectives, attention to detail, and skills they have to offer.
How did you become passionate about STEM awareness? What led to this particular mission as an educator?
Shell sponsored an event where hundreds of educators from all over the U.S. gathered at Howard University for a week. Shell Corporation believes that the world is changing due to tech advances and that education should cater to meet these changing needs. The training involved implicit biases that often stifle minority communities and the lack of opportunities often afforded to these same communities. We met for eight hours per day, educating ourselves and hashing out a plan to bring much-needed STEM education to our districts.
Who inspired your very first protagonist Marisol in Marisol: A Little Girl with a Big Dream?
I was inspired to write Marisol after one of my colleagues told me about her Hispanic nephew who was expected to go into construction because that was the family’s norm. He didn’t want to disappoint his family and went with the flow—for a while at least. Eventually, he came around and told his family that he had no interest in construction and wanted to pursue a career in the medical field. He didn’t think they would take him seriously and knew nothing about the college admissions process. He was fully supported by his family, who sought out the proper resources to help him with applications and the financial aid process. Now he is proudly working in his field of interest. Marisol’s story and journey are very similar.
How did students react to your books? Can you recall any particularly positive reactions?
The students absolutely love my books. After I read my first book Marisol: A Little Girl with a Big Dream, they fell in love with Marisol, the character. They gave me a standing ovation and insisted that her story must go on and that I must write more books about Marisol’s journey.
What are you working on now?
I am currently working on the October 15th launch for my upcoming book, A Brown Girl Like Me: A Journey Through Herstory. In this book, little Aubri Payton travels back in time and meets a beautiful fairy guide who whisks her off into a wondrous journey through time. The book presents history and victories in short, poetic, and fun lines that paint a picture of courage, audacity, and girl power.
Through Grow With STEM, LaTanya Brooks is doing much more than raising critical STEM awareness. She is empowering a generation of young people traditionally underrepresented in the highest-paying industries to think big—to “pursue their passions and not be limited by anyone’s expectations of them.”