United Way of South Hampton Roads working to close racial gap in STEM careers; offering scholarships to help local students


PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — The United Way of South Hampton Roads wants to close a gap in STEM fields by offering scholarships.

The fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) are rapidly growing. However, racial and gender gaps for professionals in these fields remain. According to the Pew Research Center, 33% of STEM jobs are held by minorities and 9% are held by Black people.

It’s that last statistic that the United Way of South Hampton Roads is determined to change.

“It’s important to know that it is possible and it can exist,” said Dr. Mark G. Davis, who is the STEM Scholarship manager for the United Way.

The nonprofit is offering its second round of scholarships to Black students in Hampton Roads who want to get a degree in a STEM-related field.

“Anything that we can do to assist their STEM dreams and make those come true is really wonderful,” said Davis. “Certainty the pandemic has illuminated where the underserved, traditionally underserved communities are pinched.”

They have the funding, thanks to a grant through USAA, to give out 120 scholarships, each up to $10,000. Half of those will go to women and a quarter will go to first-generation college students.

One of the first recipients of the scholarship says this is helping her achieve her dream of helping others.

“There’s such a bridge between the African American community and the medical community and I feel like if someone can help bridge the communities together, it can be me and it will be me,” said Alexis Alston, who is from Hampton and a biology major at James Madison University.

Alston is focusing on neuroscience and wants to be a neurosurgeon. She says the scholarship has helped her and her family tremendously.

She wants to encourage other students who were once in her shoes to apply. “Our community needs it and just go and be the voice of the people that don’t have a voice,” said Alston.

You can learn more about the program and who is eligible to apply by clicking here. The deadline to apply is March 8th.

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