Denise’s K-12 Story

Storyteller: Denise (she/her/hers), 22, Tennessee

"My reflection on STEM goes backward starting from my STEM appreciation by senior year to my disdain and disinterest back in pre K. I remember playing on early McIntosh games and typing games to learn technology but was never interested in the idea of STEM. Really don't think I learned the weight of the acronym until middle school and at that point I felt it. I did NOT like STEM because I felt excluded and inadequate but secretly I was fascinated and trying my best.

I later realized I had difficulties with learning through the help of my math teacher Mr. H in high school. He was a slight extra man but he was fun and we got along. I recall him putting a tin hat on his head to teach the FOIL method. In his class, I met one of my best friends to this day. Mr. H had my older sister prior and realized how different we were. I was better at math but worse in class and he was the first that bought up getting a diagnosis to my parents and worked with me during lunch and after class. It was a life changing moment in time as I had also began to get back into STEM with the support of my IB Biology teacher who I had a great friendship with. I remember he had dyslexia and really loved botany. Mr. W would joke and also rewrite items or discuss his struggle with dyslexia in STEM. Mr. W also became my club advisor when I wanted to create a pre-med interest group which in turn led to me meeting physicians who shared their stories struggling in STEM or being multifaceted.

These moments helped me unpack and unlearn my own false stories about what STEM is, looks like, and how I didn't fit. When I got older, I lost my shame, fear and guilt I had carried through the years to unpack how exciting STEM is to me. I like biology, astrophysics, learning codes and the process of technology development. All of these things seemed so far from me nor did anybody ever encourage me to join the groups that had basically become a boys club and definitely were not a safe space for a darker skin black girl with a unconventional style of learning and speech impediment. Instead, I learned to make my own spaces and work alongside a mutual development with those who were already encouraging and supportive of me."

I did NOT like STEM because I felt excluded and inadequate but secretly I was fascinated and trying my best.