Skip to content

EdNC. Essential education news. Important stories. Your voice.

ISLA inspires Latine youth to consider STEM careers

Voiced by Amazon Polly

On Nov. 18th, Immersion for Spanish Language Acquisition (ISLA) held their “Latines Representando STEM” event. Hosted at St. Thomas More Elementary School, the STEM fair allowed youth to be immersed in Spanish language while engaging in various interactive, hands-on activities. Here is how ISLA is contributing to increase Latine representation in the field. 

About ISLA 

ISLA is a nonprofit with a mission to build community and leadership through their educational Spanish language and cultural immersion programs. According to their site, the organization has an “interdisciplinary approach to teach language, while supporting students’ development of their cultural identities.” This looks like engaging students in a Spanish speaking learning environment with events and programming that are inclusive of literacy, arts, STEM, and other subjects. 

“There are so many opportunities to help people and to give back to the community. …Being in the industry that is growing, it’s important to make sure that we expose the youth to the material, to not just STEM, but all the opportunities available within the life science program at an early age.”

Pecolia Johnson-Scott, Novo Nordisk senior talent acquisition partner

Increasing representation

According to a Pew Research Center analysis of federal employment and education data published in 2021, “Hispanic workers make up 17% of total employment across all occupations, but just 8% of all STEM workers,” resulting in a large gap in representation for Hispanic professionals in the STEM field. This drives ISLA’s belief that “all students need to be exposed to learning environments that support STEM career paths to close the disparity barriers between Latino and STEM students.”

Johanny Payero, Laura Gomez, and Romy Milla Paz of Lenovo. All are members of Hispanics of Lenovo Association (HOLA). Derick Lee/EducationNC

The Latines Representando STEM fair is one of multiple initiatives and partnerships that ISLA has used to promote Latine youth engagement in STEM. Lenovo has been one of ISLA’s partners for this cause.

STEM fair participants Romy Milla Paz, Laura Gomez, and Johanny Payero are employees of Lenovo and members of Hispanics of Lenovo Association (HOLA). Payero, the association’s founder and executive board member, stated that their mission and vision is to partner with community organizations that promote STEM education at a very young age so students know there are opportunities for people of Hispanic/Latine descent to be able to thrive in a technical environment. Previously, the collaboration has provided youth with workshops for resume building, LinkedIn profile reviews, and mock interviews.

About the STEM fair

The STEM fair allowed ISLA to deepen their commitment to increasing Latine representation in STEM through contributions from several more community partnerships. Thinking intentionally about the needs of different grade levels, the STEM Fair was divided into three zones by age groups. Several volunteers from partnering organizations donated materials and facilitated age appropriate lessons for the youth.

A volunteer does an experiment at ISLA’s STEM fair. Derick Lee/EducationNC

Younger students were engaged in hands-on labs, including strawberry DNA extraction, a catapult launch, and replicating tornadoes in a bottle. Students in third through sixth grade learned about and participated in robot programming. Older students participated in other activities such as a rotation of interviews with professionals to learn about various career pathways in STEM.

“Being able to use my experience to promote kids from a younger age to be better at a center like this is what the goal is. To inspire young students to have more engineers, more mathematicians, in a lot of cool places that can come up with really clever, innovative solutions.”

Carlos Lopez, AskBio global application engineer

America Flores, manufacturing operator with Novo Nordisk, was one of the career presenters. Reflecting on the earlier period in her career, as a Mexican American, she recalled there being very few others in her field that shared that part of her identity.

“It was just me,” she shared. Thus, Flores sees significance in their outreach through events like the STEM fair, exposing Latine youth to the opportunities available.

Novo Nordisk employees career interview with youth at ISLA’s STEM fair. Derick Lee/EducationNC

The same perspective was shared by Dr. Lynn Tovar, career development specialist for life sciences at Durham Technical Community College. Among the programs she highlighted was the BioWork certificate program, which is offered at Durham Tech and has recently been made available to Durham Public Schools high school seniors. According to Dr. Tovar, their goal is to make participants at the fair aware of educational opportunities that may help them get connected to the type of STEM careers they learned about in the interviews with the professionals.

Though STEM is a broad career field, many presenters identified curiosity as a trait needed among those pursuing a job in the profession. One of the presenters at the fair, Mildred Rodriguez, is an associate director of chemistry, manufacturing, and control at the pharmaceutical company Springworks Therapeutics. She believes “all kids are curious,” but said curiosity has potential to go away if it isn’t nurtured. As a mother of children that participate in ISLA’s programming, she expressed gratitude for an organization that not only celebrates their identity and language but helps nurture their curiosity in different areas, including STEM. 

“It’s important for us to help the next generation, preparing them to be ready for an interview, to be able to know what to expect […] and them having those certain skills that’s going to help them as they’re preparing themselves for a career.”

Laura Gomez, Lenovo global inside sales rep and chairperson of Hispanics of Lenovo Association

Another parent, David Bermeo, conveyed his appreciation for ISLA exposing his son to parts of his roots through language, dance, music, and more.

“We love that they are exposed to science and mathematics terms and experiments…promoting to kids within our community to bring their own science projects and work and explore more science,” Bermeo said. “So, yeah, as a parent, I’m very proud of what ISLA is doing.”

Behind the Story

It is EdNC’s practice to use Hispanic/Latino/Latina/Latinx/Latine based on the data, individuals, or organizations being cited.

Derick Lee

Derick Lee is a regional storyteller for EdNC.