Meet the Organization Addressing Inclusion One Student at a Time
Ninth graders who apply for the Level Playing Field Institute’s SMASH Academy – an intensive summer program to teach science and math skills to underrepresented students of color – go through a rigorous process similar to a college application. They write an essay, get interviewed, submit references, and take a math test; only 20% are admitted. But for those who make it, the experience is transformative, according to LPFI CEO Eli Kennedy. “We look for students with a deep interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) but who have not recognized their potential,” Kennedy says. “We want to change their trajectory so they go onto college.”
The results speak for themselves. Of their students, 85% have parents who did not attend college, yet of all the students who have been through the program since 2001, 100% finish high school, about half go onto top 50 colleges, and close to 70% major in STEM fields. These statistics are “dramatically higher than the communities we are serving,” says Kennedy.
New Resource Bank client, Level Playing Field Institute, was launched by Freada Kapor Klein with the support of her husband Mitch, as part of the Kapor Center for Social Impact, whose mission is, “to make the technology ecosystem and entrepreneurship more diverse and inclusive.” Both Kapors had found success in the tech industry and wanted to give back by finding a way to help others who may not otherwise have access to the resources that helped smooth their own professional paths.
Since 2001, SMASH has hosted five-week residential programs at universities across the country, currently including U.C. Berkeley, U.C. Davis, UCLA, Stanford, and a new program at Morehouse College in Atlanta. LPFI staff recruit applicants among low income students of color and those who may have the potential but not the opportunity to take high-level computer science and math classes at their schools. Ninth graders commit to joining the summer program for three years and participate in workshops and weekend classes throughout the year. Kids who come into the program with no background in computer science leave with expert level web programming skills.
At the same time, students are taught to look at the world and the STEM field in particular through a social justice lens. SMASH Morehouse Site Director Dr. Brian Garrett says teachers focus on teaching critical thinking skills and problem solving alongside the technical science and math skills. The goal, he says, is to share with students “how tech skills and public speaking skills can be used to advocate for those who have been pushed to the margins or have been voiceless, and how they can have a broad global impact on their communities, communities of color, and the world as a whole.” LPFI is now looking at ways to systematize ad hoc efforts by SMASH graduates to pass on their skills within their own communities through workshops, after school classes, etc.
According to Kennedy, the Kapors, “really live life as bang the drum champions of organizations that have good ethics, that treat employees properly, and have zero tolerance for practices that discriminate.” For New Resource Bank, the Kapor Center for Social Impact has been a natural fit with our mission. Vince Siciliano, President & CEO, explained “The Kapor Center is a leader in changing the system and addressing key issues such as equity, inclusion, and diversity in our schools and workforce. They are an inspiring example of the organizations we support in education and community empowerment and we are honored to work with the Kapor Center as a leading force for good in our community.”
To learn more Level Playing Field Institute and their SMASH Academy watch this video featuring the scholars themselves.