STEM enrichment program at Clark Atlanta lights the way

How the Verizon Innovative Learning initiative is changing students’ ideas of what’s possible

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Verizon Innovative Learning alumni Mekhi Burgess and his father Andre Burgess.

Before Mekhi Burgess’ first day at the Young Men of Color program at Clark Atlanta University, he liked STEM, but didn’t see how he could make a career out of it. But after going through a three-week summer immersion experience on the Atlanta, Georgia campus, he knew he wanted to major in computer science.

Since 2015, Verizon Innovative Learning’s Young Men of Color program has provided students from under-resourced middle schools nationwide with extracurricular STEM enrichment project-based learning experiences. The program is inclusive and welcomes all genders and nonbinary youth. It’s part of Citizen Verizon, the company’s responsible business plan to help move the world forward for all, and help ensure no student is left behind. Via partnerships with historically Black colleges and universities (HBCU), Hispanic-serving institutions and community colleges, the program exposes students to the tech-driven careers of tomorrow — and gives them the tools to thrive in them. And it works — like Mekhi, 98% of students who have participated in the program say it increased their interest in STEM (SRI, 2019).

Clark Atlanta University has been a partner every step of the way. Entering its sixth year with the Young Men of Color, the program is housed in the school’s dual degree engineering program, making the most of its status as part of the nation’s largest HBCU hub. Over the years, program director Robyn Clayton and her team of instructors and mentors have provided hundreds of students with the tools they need to reimagine the future. “The program at Clark is set apart because it’s here at Clark Atlanta University. It’s just a perfect match for the students to have that social and emotional connection with them so they can just learn about campus life and being a college student,” says Clayton. “It’s impacting them psychologically, so that they know that they can be there one day.”

Mekhi says participating in the program in middle school was pivotal to his future. “It was a very life changing experience. I got to learn a lot of stuff I never learned before in my life that still helps me to this day,” says Mekhi, who is entering his senior year of high school in Douglasville, Georgia, with a 3.9 GPA in advanced classes.

Mekhi’s dad, Andre Burgess, is excited about the transformation he’s seen in his son. “It makes them feel like, 'I can take the talents that I have right now, and I can do things that absolutely could impact the future,’” he says.

Mekhi is currently touring colleges in the South with plans to major in computer science and design video games. “I really, really like gaming. If I could land a spot at a very big gaming company, I would very much like to make other kids’ lives happy,” says Mekhi.

Watch and hear from Mekhi, educators and mentors about what makes the Young Men of Color program at Clark Atlanta University life changing.

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We brought together three former mentors of the Young Men of Color program to discuss how the program helps students connect to STEM — and to their own bright futures.
Students gain STEM learning experiences, from instruction on how to build apps, to lectures from leaders, providing them with the chance to apply their knowledge to solve real world problems.