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Engineering Meets Culture at WIT Rites of Passage STEM Workshop

Updated: Aug 30, 2021

Bethany Gordon, a doctoral student in Civil Engineering at the University of Washington, conducted the interactive Engineering in STEAM workshop on August 21, 2021, for middle school girls in the WIT Rites of Passage Circle.

“My favorite part of the workshop was working with my team to try, trying and try again to invent an eco-friendly model for transporting soda cans,” said Skylar from Childersburg, Alabama.

The half-day workshop opened with Dr. Muhjah Shakir, Rev. Jacquetta Y. Parhams and Tuskegee Councilwoman Norma (Iyabode) McGowan Jackson, elders from the Nature’s Garden for Victory and Peace sisterhood collective pouring libation to honor African American women engineers from the past.

“I like cohesiveness,” said Rev. Jacquetta, who coordinated the Opening Ceremony. “Being able to tie the STEAM presentation into the cultural legacy makes the learning experience feel more holistic. With that in mind, I honored two ‘Hidden Figures.’ Mary W. Jackson was a Hidden Figure in NASA. Raye Montague was a Hidden Figure in the Navy.”

Dr. Shakir honored Bessie Blount, a physical therapist from New Jersey who invented a device that helped handicapped soldiers who had returned from the Second World War. The device helped the veterans feed themselves if they had lost limbs. Her electric device dispensed liquified food through a tube to a mouthpiece that could be used whether its user was sitting up or lying down.

“Biting down on the tube signaled the machine to deliver another mouthful,” Shakir explained.

Shakir also stated that in 1951 Blount patented a portable receptacle support that featured a brace that could hang around the neck, along with an attachment for a cup or bowl, that allowed someone with arm injuries to hold something close to his or her face.

Councilwoman Jackson honored Norma Gaillard.

“She worked in the cell culture laboratory at Tuskegee Institute,” Jackson said. “Gaillard and her colleagues worked on the polio vaccine in addition to the groundbreaking work with the mass production of the HeLa cells from Henrietta Lacks, a Black woman from Maryland”

Dr. Stephanie Aldridge McCorvey, WIT Director of Youth Development, commended the Nature’s Garden Sisterhood Collective for sharing such rich knowledge with the Rites of Passage daughters.

“It was a very moving Opening Ceremony,” McCorvey stated. “I greatly appreciate our mothers’ research and efforts so that our daughters are more knowledgeable about the depth, breadth and richness of our history.”

The cohesiveness of STEAM and culture continued with a drumming lesson by Duron Hale:

“Everything’s a drum!

Everything’s a drum!”

The Rites of Passage daughters then used cans, sea shells, wooden sticks and other materials to create their own percussion instruments.

“The drumming made me feel so alive and in touch with my African heritage!” said Breanna Bennett, 14-year-old WIT co-founder.

Vanessa Warren, MBA, Mary Kay Independent Sales Director, hosted our workshop at the Dream Center in Montgomery. She treated the Rites of Passage daughters to an aromatic Mary Kay Satin Hands session.

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