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Howard University Introduces D.C Kids to Robot and NASA Scientists and Engineers

Howard University kicked-off its first STEM Best Practices forum last week at the new Howard University Interdisciplinary Research Building in Washington D.C., as part of the National Newspaper Publishers Association Foundation (NNPA) of the U.S.A. and NNPA’s 2016 Black Press Week.

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Eighty-two young people of color from Washington D.C.-area schools were at the event to take part in hands-on demonstrations of robotics and drone technology.

Dr. Anthony K. Wutoh, provost of Howard University, led the event. He welcomed NNPA President, Dr. Benjamin Chavis; NNPA Chairman, Denise Roark-Barnes; and Al McFarlane, chair of the NNPA Foundation as well as a host of engineers and scientists.

Leading engineers with the American National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and a member of the American National Academy of Inventors (NAI) provided hands-on robotics assembly and demonstrations to the student scholars, many of whom were witnessing this technology in person for the first time.

The experts proving the demonstrations included Dr. Thomas Mensah, a fiber optics inventor; the NNPA Foundation’s ‘STEM Research 2020” Ambassador; NAI fellow; and one of its only three black members to hold more than seven invention patents.

Also, at the event was Dr. Ashitey Trebi-Ollennu, group lead and robotics engineer at the NASA-Jet Propulsion Laboratory; fellow of the United Kingdom’s IET and the Royal Aeronautical Society; and a designer of the Mars Rover Lander. Dr. Trebi-Ollennu’s research focuses on planetary rovers.

Dr. Edward Tuntsel, designer of the Mars Lander Robot at NASA and an alumnus of Howard University, also lent his expertise to the event. Dr. Tuntsel is also senior roboticist at John Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory.

Fernando Hernandez, the director at Microsoft Supplier Diversity, who created Microsoft’s $ 2 billion supplier diversity strategic three-year plan, and Bill Blackwelder, president at Delta Southern Space UAS, a company specializing in unmanned aerial systems and platforms in the agricultural industry, were also in attendance.

“It was exciting to see these young students, some of the children in their third grade, interact with scientists, engineers, and inventors, as well as older students from the all-female Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia […] who placed third in a national robotics competition at Microsoft in November 2014,” said Dr. Mensah.

“The Spelman ladies were on hand to demonstrate a humanoid robot they had built which is nicknamed ‘Spice.” The high schoolers were also impressed by the commercial drone shown by Bill Blackwelder.”

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What Little Kids Need From Grownups

(Image: Stephanie Fleary)


Erika Christakis’s new book, The Importance of Being Little, is an impassioned plea for educators and parents to put down the worksheets and flash cards, ditch the tired craft projects (yes, you, Thanksgiving Handprint Turkey) and exotic vocabulary lessons, and double-down on one, simple word:


That’s because, she writes, “the distinction between early education and official school seems to be disappearing.” If kindergarten is the new first grade, Christakis argues, preschool is quickly becoming the new kindergarten. And that is “a real threat to our society’s future.”

If the name sounds familiar, that’s likely because Christakis made headlines last October, writing an e-mail that stirred angry protests at Yale, where she is a lecturer at the Yale Child Study Center.

When a campus committee sent students a memo urging restraint in choosing Halloween costumes and asking them to avoid anything that “disrespects, alienates or ridicules segments of our population based on race, nationality, religious belief or gender expression,” Christakis wrote a memo of her own. She lauded the committee’s goals of trying to encourage tolerance and foster community but wondered if the responsibility of deciding what is offensive should fall to students, not their administrators.

“Have we lost faith in young people’s capacity—in your capacity—to exercise self-censure, through social norming, and also in your capacity to ignore or reject things that trouble you?” Christakis wrote.

Many Yale students accused Christakis of being racially insensitive and called for her ouster. In December, she stepped down from her teaching duties, telling  The Washington Post, “I worry that the current climate at Yale is not, in my view, conducive to the civil dialogue and open inquiry required to solve our urgent societal problems.”

What does Christakis’s role in the heated debate over racial insensitivity and free speech on campus have to do with her views on preschool? Surprisingly, a lot.

Read more at NPR Ed.

Black Enterprise