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Chemours invests $4M into Wilmington STEM initiatives

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A Chemours employee works with Serviam Academy students on building a popsicle stick catapult during the Nov. 8 ChemFEST kickoff. | PHOTO COURTESY OF CHEMOURS

WILMINGTON – Chemours, the global chemicals company, made a substantial investment this week in STEM education for Wilmington students from under-resourced middle schools, announcing a new partnership program and a $4 million donation to EastSide Charter School’s 24,000 square-foot community STEM facility, to be completed in summer 2023.

Along with becoming the named benefactor for the Chemours-EastSide STEM Discovery Hub, Chemours also launched its Future of Engineering, Science, Trades and Technology (ChemFEST) school partnership program at EastSide Charter School and Serviam Girls Academy.

The downtown Wilmington-headquartered chemistry company will offer both Wilmington schools multi-year financial support for STEM learning activities and lab equipment as well as volunteer and program collaborations with Chemours employees.

“With every school and student we reach, we’re nurturing a more capable, inclusive, and diverse future STEM workforce that will be ready for the more than 800,000 openings for jobs in STEM-related fields over the next 20 years,” said Mark Newman, president and CEO of Chemours, in a statement.

Despite those future openings and a 10.5% increase in occupations, STEM fields continue to lack in diversity, with women disproportionately comprising 27% of the STEM workforce compared to non-STEM fields, and Black and Latino workers representing just 9% and 7% of STEM employees, respectively.

Chemours aims to have some students from the ChemFEST program eventually join the company, but the program is “bigger than Chemours,” said Alvenia Scarborough, Chemours’ senior vice president of communications and chief brand officer.

“We believe that it’s about Chemours, our future workforce and the chemical industry, but it’s even bigger than that,” she said. “We’re trying to change the face of the STEM workforce to make it more diverse.”

The ChemFEST school partnership model will be customized to meet the needs of each school and local community where Chemours operates. The program is part of Chemours’ Corporate Responsibility Commitment goal to invest $50 million in creating and sustaining vibrant communities.

Eighth-grade students at Serviam will also receive $250,000 in funding from Chemours for STEM enrichment and a project-based learning approach that will continue over four years.

The two schools will be the first of many, as Chemours intends to partner with schools in 26 other locations across the world where the company operates.

For Scarborough, the new partnership program is personal: Her daughter opted out of STEM education from an early age and went into a different industry as an adult.

“A love of science was not nurtured or encouraged or inspired, and I always think about, had she had that love of science in fourth or fifth grade, that she would have carried that with her through her education,” Scarborough said. “My daughter’s story is the story of so many girls and so many students in under-resourced areas. I’ve seen it happen right before my eyes – and I’m in science.”

On Nov. 8 – the first day of ChemFEST – Serviam students made slime, built geodesic domes and constructed a catapult out of popsicle sticks while learning lessons in chemistry, math, physics and engineering.

“The kids were all smiling from ear to ear,” said Scarborough, who attended the first day of the program. “They had made slime before but never understood the chemistry behind it, so we introduced the concept of polymers and [showed them] that making slime is really science.”

The company will measure the success of the program by looking at how many middle school students in the program decide to pursue science in high school, and likewise into college.

That early intervention, especially by using fun and explorative lessons, help spur curiosity and excitement in science fields, Scarborough said.

“It was the kind of energy, exposure and inspiration of science brought to life in the classroom that we had envisioned,” she added. “It all comes back to building a more inclusive and diverse STEM workforce. And that’s our ambition.”

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