As kids grow older, their interest in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) tends to weaken due to lack of accessibility to resources that can help keep their curiosity growing. Dr. Reagan Flowers made it her personal mission to give minority and impoverished students access to resources so they can begin to obtain complete mastery of STEM by embracing communication and engaging in interactive projects that stimulate curiosity, and help foster interest towards entering these fields.
Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics are some of the most lucrative and advanced fields to enter into career-wise. STEM programs and classes exist all across the country to teach kids about the multifaceted work that goes into any STEM profession, however, the issue of education inequality has created a major gap in the resources available for schools in impoverished lower-income neighborhoods.
This issue mainly impacts minority children and lower-income families whose school systems simply don’t have the funding to maintain proper STEM programs throughout K-12 programs. Without proper access to STEM resources, many of these children lose interest in the field, which can lead to an overall lack of motivation to learn in general.
Dr. Reagan Flowers has over 25 years of experience in education, but her main passion now is providing lower-income schools with the STEM resources they need to maintain a healthy learning environment. When children have access to these resources, it shifts their mindset to view learning as an opportunity to grow, rather than just a means to getting a good grade.
Dr. Flowers is the founder, President, and CEO of C-STEM Teacher and Student Supportive Services Inc. (C-STEM), a non-profit organization with the goal of embracing communication and engaging students in interactive projects that stimulate curiosity and help foster interest towards entering STEM fields. By securing such interests, new generations of STEM professionals will ideally help communities across the country prosper for years to come.
“With C-STEM Teacher and Student Support Services, Inc. (C-STEM), it’s all about connecting communities and granting access to STEM opportunities that they may have not even been aware of due to their socioeconomic status. A lot of individuals don’t even know where to start when it comes to this field, so it’s our job to make them aware and create an interest in the opportunities available.”
I recently had the opportunity to speak to Dr. Flowers about her passion for STEM and why she’s so motivated to keep the next generation of professionals engaged in learning about the many opportunities that can come from it. She explained to me how from a young age she always had an independent mindset to follow her heart, and how that mindset translated to everyone around her.
“I grew up knowing I should always stay the course of whatever journey I was on, and I had to work hard to get it done. My great grandfather was really instrumental in my childhood, he would always tell me ‘don’t depend on the other fella for nothing,’ and those simple words genuinely always stuck with me. So I grew up with the ideology that it’s important to take care of things myself, and knowing that I’d always had someone like my great grandfather supporting me gave me the confidence to actually believe in that.
Through that, I knew I always wanted to give others the hand up that I felt I had throughout my life when it came to having that confidence. I credit my determination and motivation to the amount of connections I’ve made growing up and into my career. It’s helped me realize how much I love helping others find their voice and create an opportunity for themselves where they feel they’re allowed to dream and create goals that they actually want to achieve.”
Dr. Flowers began her professional journey as an educator at Jack Yates High School, located in Houston, Texas Third Ward.
“When I started teaching, it was meant to be a short lived experience. I was transitioning out of another job that I was at for about two years and knew I wanted a change. However, I’m the type of person that when I see something ‘broken’ or struggling, I always try to find a solution.
Initially I saw a lot of challenges within the school itself, so I did some research and discovered this type of learning that would help students become more excited to answer questions in class, and make them want to participate and learn, but it was hard to get the rest of the administration on board.
At first, I couldn’t find any support in the school system to help expand educational programs to help students who were performing the lowest, which unfortunately in America is children of poverty and minority students. During that time I was getting my Master’s as well and it wasn’t until I got my PHD that the individuals around me who I was working with started taking the business concept seriously.
My experience in business and administrative teaching at this point also gave me the tools I needed to create a proper plan where more schools and students could also benefit from the work I was doing. I used the C-STEM plan as my dissertation, and it quickly became my vehicle to bring about change, and help children take advantage of the opportunities that exist in the STEM field that they may not have even been aware of.”
In those beginning months, Dr. Flowers was able to obtain a grant from NASA to create a robot, which led to Yates having their first robotics team. Not only was she able to teach valuable lessons within STEM, but she discovered the power of communication. Communication strategies and tactics can impact the way students, educators, and professionals better understand the disciplines of STEM, according to Dr. Flowers. This is how C-STEM was born.
“It’s all about access and early awareness. So many students at a young age lose interest in the STEM field, especially minority and lower-income students whose school systems don’t have access to certain resources. There’s no one there to continue to nurture and expose these kids to the continuous opportunities within the field, so by the time they even reach high school they’ve lost interest.”
Dr. Flowers then took me through some of the specifics of the amazing work they do through C-STEM, and explained how the systemic issue of education inequality impacts students all throughout America, especially when it comes to accessibility in the classroom.
“The beauty with C-STEM is since we’re non-profit, our goal is always to reach as many people as possible with the least amount of resources, and we’re able to do that. We luckily have been able to create a national following for ourselves through our online sessions and website in general, which really is half the battle. Getting our message and goals out there gets the attention of the hundreds of thousands of individuals who are in a school system that doesn’t have the necessary funding or resources to provide a full educational experience for students.
I always set a high bar when I go to an underserved school district. So often individuals working in those districts think that we’re asking too much of the students when we discuss the opportunities and resources we’d like to provide. I always disagree with that sentiment, because for me, when these new STEM concepts are introduced to students, I’ll set my expectations high for them but in a way where they know that they’re capable of meeting those expectations, they just have to try, and even if they don’t, wherever we land will be many steps ahead from where we were before. It’s about giving them support and encouragement so they know that they have the ability to overcome anything educationally, they just need to care about it, and themselves.
I’ll get asked ‘how do you know this child has the capacity to solve this challenge’ in regards to any project or classes in the STEM field, and I always say it’s because I set an expectation for them, require them to do it, and provide them with all the tools they need to solve it. So by reassuring the students that they have everything they need to complete a challenge or project, it creates a growing sense of motivation, and then when they do complete it, that satisfaction will stick with them, so much so that they may even want to pursue STEM in general.
In this work I’ve never dumbed anything down. I always set the bar high and give students all the tools and resources I can, through our fundraising, and we let them have the experience for themselves. We also put these students in a space where they can observe and learn from other students, which teaches them that they’re not alone and there’s always an opportunity to grow from the people around them.
Watching these students come out of their box, become inspired by other students, and even get competitive with one another is so rewarding. You can see the moment in which they create the expectation for themselves to do better and complete a challenge. Overtime, these kids learn that meeting their own expectations is much more important than a grade on a piece of paper, however, when they work hard to actually reach their goals, the better grades typically follow because of how motivated they become.”
Dr. Flowers then explained to me that while it’s rewarding to see so many students be positively impacted by the work they’re doing with C-STEM, the systemic issues that create these inequalities throughout America’s school systems is the biggest problem that needs to be solved.
“To put it bluntly, this is a systemic issue within the entire American education system. There’s a major lack of communication between K-12 schools, higher education systems, and the workforce for new graduates when it comes to providing equal opportunity to every single student, regardless of age, race, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status. When someone outside of the STEM field learns more about it, it can seem daunting, and like something only the most intelligent of people can be a part of. However, the reality is that anyone with a passion for STEM can learn it and become an expert, but if those initial opportunities to learn and grow within that field aren’t there when an individual is young and in grade school, then it can seem completely impossible.”
“Every child deserves the opportunity to learn and grow in any field they want, and in order to provide that we need to give every child the access to the resources and technology that can help these desires grow.”
“Access to resources is one of the biggest hurdles that these students need to overcome. There’s so many systemic issues that impact the life of an impoverished child, but the lack of educational tools and technology teaches them early on that the only way to be successful is to earn money however you can, regardless of how miserable the job may seem.
Kids are being set up from an early age to learn that their future careers aren’t necessarily important, it’s the income that matters. We want children to be children, and to experience every aspect of the educational system possible so that they see that they have a world of opportunities out there for themselves, if it’s something they’re passionate about.
The learning gaps pre-Covid compared to now have also grown exponentially. You have to think of all the kids at home who don’t have access to a proper internet source, a place to quietly learn, etc. and that is putting them at an even larger disadvantage when it comes to their education.
This has become such a large issue that we’re trying to combat through our normal programs and work, thankfully our presence in the virtual world pre-Covid has helped us immensely when it comes to reaching out to schools and people who have been struggling with learning due to the pandemic.”
Dr. Flowers then explained to me why it’s so important for her and everyone involved in C-STEM to be focused on what’s going on politically when it comes to education, funding, resources, and distribution to underserved communities.
“We keep a really close eye on what’s happening with education at a state and federal level. More recently we’ve been following a proposition to make community college free in America, which would make a huge difference for many individuals in the workforce already. We want to give students a clean slate when they graduate high school, and provide them with the confidence that they can enter into any field they want, and take the time to explore it, regardless of the cost.
In an ideal world, we would be leveraging partnerships with all cities, their K-12 systems, higher education, corporations, and businesses, so that more opportunities are created throughout each sector. If we want more kids to enter into the STEM field as they get older, we need to create more jobs within the field, more funding for schools/businesses that need it, and essentially create a city-partnership system where every child is given an equal opportunity from kindergarten to adulthood.
Until we can truly leverage the entire system to create these opportunities that invest in citizens with economic opportunity in every sector, we need to continue to fight at the ground level through the schools that need it now.
We pride ourselves in how committed we are to every community we involve ourselves in. Our work is never done, especially in the schools where these programs already exist. Even if a student has no interest in STEM whatsoever, knowing that they have access to resources and individuals who can help them learn more about it is half the battle.”
“Sometimes we all need some form of encouragement. We all need someone that tells us that we can overcome any obstacle, break barriers, and reach our highest potential. We also need the guidance of an experienced professional who knows how to help individuals navigate through the competitive fields of STEM, which is why our work at C-STEM is so important.”
According to her biography, Dr. Flowers has always been focused on providing individuals with knowledge and skills that are essential to succeed in STEM. She has been dedicated to working with groups of students who traditionally do not have access to a comprehensive STEM curriculum. Many of the students come from low-income backgrounds. If they are given the proper tools and guidance to succeed, they will be able to achieve greatness and will have a new understanding of STEM. Dr. Flowers also provides essential tools to teachers and nonprofits that need help obtaining adequate resources to provide an exceptional STEM education.
Throughout her years as the leading figure in C-STEM, Dr. Flowers has been able to impact hundreds of teachers, professionals, and students from all walks of life. The programs she has designed and implemented have impacted urban, suburban, and rural communities across multiple states across the nation including Texas, Michigan, Maryland, Illinois, and Mississippi. She has been able to manage over $10 million in funding for special programs that help support the development of exceptional STEM instructional leaders, as well as integrating specialized technological tools and resources that help educators and students alike achieve a greater understanding of STEM. She has worked with the most prominent individuals that include national thought leaders, school district leaders, public servants, and community development strategists. One of the most important aspects that differentiates Dr. Flowers amongst other STEM professionals is that she is a strong advocate of inclusion and diversity within this field.
Dr. Flower’s then took me through some of her own personal philosophies that she’s carried throughout her life, which has led her to becoming the confident professional she is today. Her positive attitude and desire to help others gave her all the motivation she needed to reach her goals within C-STEM, and life in general.
“Having the ability to listen, the desire to do good and right despite the worst of situations, and the ability to dream really guided me to where I am today. I always had the desire to strive for my interpretation of a good life and quality living, and was always willing to do the work and never giving up.
I am a big believer that everything in life happens for a reason, because you never know what certain opportunities are going to lead to. We all can likely think of a memory where we started some sort of new chapter of our life and whether or not the result was good, we can confidently say that we learned something valuable from the experience.
I want people to feel the value of paying it forward, giving back, and what’s required to do that. Surviving in any business means dealing with all the curveballs that life throws at you that are beyond your control, but also understanding that those moments can exacerbate the capacity of who you are, what you know, and what you don’t know, and will teach you how you’ve shown up in that particular space you’re in.”
I asked Dr. Flowers to conclude our interview with her personal mission statement for the future, and what she carries with her everyday when she’s navigating C-STEM, and having to work through the many educational systems that exist in order for her to reach her goals.
“As a social entrepreneur it’s not easy to advocate for people you don’t necessarily know, but you know that they need you. It takes a huge amount of commitment to work and to change yourself to be the best you can. You have to be flexible and learn how to reinvent yourself when challenging moments appear. I had to learn that for myself before I could educate others on that same concept.
My personal mission is to create as many economic opportunities as I can, I always try to educate, and enlighten everyone around me. As we know, life is truly not fair, you can have all the education in the world but depending on where you live, that could mean nothing for you in terms of opportunity. However, the knowledge that you have is something that will guide you to the right opportunities and people who can help you grow, in all aspects of your life.
You have full control over your life and your future, but it’s so easy to get deterred from that. It’s my job to be the example and champion for economic opportunity and education so every child knows the world is full of opportunities that they deserve access too.
When it comes to your future, the answer’s aren’t just going to appear on your doorstep, you need to find the confidence to get out there and advocate for yourself. That alone is a huge step in creating a better path for yourself.”
Eric Mastrota is a Contributing Editor at The National Digest based in New York. A graduate of SUNY New Paltz, he reports on world news, culture, and lifestyle. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.