How One Woman Is Changing the face of STEM Opportunities for Minority Students through the UNCF

 Name: Carita Marrow

Age: 31

Location: Alexandria, VA

Current Title/Company: Senior Manager, Science Education for United Negro College Fund (UNCF)

Education: Painting and Printmaking, Virginia Commonwealth University, Masters of Arts Management, George Mason University

Give us a little background about Carita Marrow? I’m a 2nd generation college graduate. I know first-hand the challenges at play with marginalizing girls of color from my experience matriculating through the K-12 educational system in Richmond, VA.  Because of systematic injustices, I was shuffled around by my single parent mother just to gain the quality education she felt I deserved. During my schooling, I faced microaggressions, racism and was often times the only person of color in advanced courses. My mom fought tirelessly to expose me to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) opportunities and pair me with mentors which led me to question why I was always the only girl of color throughout my teenage and college years.

How did your childhood and college experience lead you to the UNCF? After my college experience, I developed a passion for working with communities that looked like me.  I wanted to pay it forward and bring wealth, exposure, and critical resources to black and brown communities to advance women and other minorities. I hoped to do this through ensuring colleges and universities in the U.S. were becoming more inclusive for all women and people of color.

I enthusiastically entered the STEM Nonprofit workspace and began shepherding initiatives becoming an intrapreneur at the UNCF. I managed several programs at UNCF under the STEM umbrella. Primarily, a new initiative that enables high school students to pursue a bachelor’s degree in STEM fields at the college or university of their choosing while learning about innovation and startup tech entrepreneurship. 

African Americans make up less than five percent of the science and engineering workforce, and less than one percent of all tech startups. The Fund II Foundation and UNCF joined together to address this challenge. The Fund II Foundation UNCF STEM Scholars Program creates a robust pipeline of African American students well prepared to have careers in the tech industry and to become the next generation of innovators and entrepreneurs. I decided to take this program one step further by also focusing on increasing the number of women in STEM in order to move the needle forward in changing the face of STEM.

Currently, because of my efforts, of the over 500 scholars that will matriculate through this program, half of them will be high school girls. The inaugural cohort that was just announced included 50% girls. The girls will not only receive scholarship funding from UNCF but will receive wraparound support such as an exposure to STEM industry experts, tutors, and mentorship.

Did you always know this is what you wanted to do? Originally, when I was younger, I always thought I was going to be a full-time artist owning an art gallery. However, after moving 4 times and attending seven different schools during my K-12 years, I knew I had to change the landscape of arts and science education. I had to remove barriers. I still indulge in my first passion on the side: The Arts. I recently launched an online art store, The Essence of Carita, of my original work and products celebrating the excellence of Black Culture.

What challenges have you experienced or had to overcome? Overcoming the social economic status of my childhood.  My mom gave birth to me at age twenty after dropping out her first year of college. She was the tenth child in a family of meager means and it wasn’t any easier having been the first in her family to attend college. My mom masked the reality of our humble beginnings as we lived in the projects until I was seven. Desperate to not become another statistic and to provide a better future me, my mom re-enrolled in college classes. Without the income to afford a babysitter, I attended her classes with her. I often joke with her that I should have a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a masters’ in rehabilitation counseling, in addition to my own advanced degrees.

During my teenage years and throughout my undergraduate career, I masked my upbringing because I thought people would not take me seriously if they knew where I came from. But as the years passed, I embraced my childhood and humble beginnings. It made me who I am today, a Diversity Advocate and Innovator. 

My upbringing made me strong, resilient and able to adapt easily to any adverse situation or circumstance. I no longer became a victim to imposter syndrome. I do not want others or the next generation who look like me to endure some of the challenges I did. I want to expose them to opportunities I didn’t have and hopefully continue to be that link or connector to their success.

Did you have a mentor or any help on your journey? Who else, but my mom. She inspired me to always innovate and think outside of the box creating opportunities for myself and also how to be professional and adapt to different environments. She taught me to be fierce and believe in myself.

What advice would you give someone interested in this field? Be True to yourself and discover your passions. Do not think your intersectionality is lesser to people who do not look like you. Women and underrepresented minorities have the power to shake and move mountains collectively! We can change the landscape of the workforce/entrepreneurship and drive to the mountaintop. Don’t try to fit yourself into a minority box. You have the ability to break barriers and the glass ceiling. Keep fighting the good fight.

What do you wish you would have known before starting? That you can Fail Forward. It’s okay to not have all of the answers. I wish I would have known not to chase perfection but pursue excellence and navigate the field of STEM and Tech Education.

What are you most proud of that you or your biz has accomplished? I am most proud of awarding over 500 students with STEM Scholarships, fellowships and travel grants.

What sacrifices have you made if any for pursuing this career? Work-Life Balance. There is so much to be done in this field. With more and more jobs requiring STEM skills, I often worry that people who look like me will not catch up and have a seat at the table so I work like crazy missing out on fun experiences and more.

AJ Living Lady

What’s your guilty pleasure? Sour gummy worms, Scandal, and Painting

I wish I knew how to… Take more risks

Single most favorite thing… Lavender Essential Oil on my pillows for a soothing sleep.

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