Spelman College President Beverly Tatum On Preparing the Next Gen of STEM Leaders

Black Enterprise’s ‘Educating Our Daughters’ speaker discusses women in STEM

STEM fields provide a foundation of skills. You mentioned leadership being one of them. What other skills would you say the STEM fields prepare graduates for, especially in the realm of business?

When we think about what the skills are that are needed to be a successful business person, we certainly need leadership, but we also need the ability to think critically, analyze problems, present solutions, implement those solutions; and you need persistence and a certain kind of stamina and self-confidence because, as we know, business has its ups and downs.  You have to be able to persist through moments or periods of difficulty and discouragements, as well as appropriately plan for the future.

The goal of the Spelman College SpelBots robotics team is to encourage students and young women of African descent to explore robotics and computer science. How has the team worked to fill the STEM pipeline?

In the past year, they have done demonstrations around Atlanta but also at UCLA, Georgia Tech, which is of course here in Atlanta, but working here with local middle schools and high schools to demonstrate their work with the robots to encourage young people to think about the opportunities that are available to them, if they should decide to pursue the avenue of computer science and robotics.

What has been your proudest Spelbots moment in the team’s 10-year existence?

There have been a number of proud moments. In 2009, the team was back in Japan competing in another RoboCup competition. They tied for first place and that was very exciting. In the tie for first place, they were competing against a Japanese team from a university that is widely considered like the MIT equivalent in Japan. They were playing with a highly-regarded team of young, Japanese men. Their sense was, as they described it to me, that this Japanese team thought that they were going to be easy competition—this group of young Black girls from Atlanta.

Another very proud moment was when two of our Spelbots successfully competed in the AT&T Mobility Challenge… They were selected as first prize winners for the mobility challenge and the prize winning program that they created—the competition was to create a mobile application—and the prize-winning mobile app that they designed was called HBCU buddy, which was an app that would help students learn more about HBCUs.

What are your hopes for the robotics team in the future?

I think we would like to be able to say that the Spelbots inspired other young women and young men, other members of the African American community, in particular, to consider careers in computer science and technology.

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