[caption id="attachment_214387" align="aligncenter" width="725"]FAME is seeking to begin a $6.5 million renovation project to build the Learning Lab at its Wilmington offices in order to better serve children. | PHOTO COURTESY OF FAME[/caption]
WILMINGTON – With a $2.8 million state grant in hand, the Forum to Advance Minorities in Engineering (FAME) is ready to start renovations that will modernize its longtime facility, creating a modern Learning Lab to reach a new generation of diverse scientists.FAME, a nonprofit organization located on Baynard Boulevard, is dedicated to bringing new experiences and resources to girls and minority students in grades K-12 looking to enter the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields. It was founded in 1976 by DuPont, as the then-heavyweight Delaware employer sought to help diversify the talent pool.“[The intent of FAME is] to drive females and other underrepresented populations to sciences and engineering specifically. We have always been intentional about making sure that we create, inspire and encourage the talent pipeline,” said Don Baker, CEO of FAME.
[caption id="attachment_214388" align="alignright" width="330"] The top floor of the Learning Lab will feature dedicated spaces for different disciplines to work in. | PHOTO COURTESY OF FAME[/caption]
The total renovation project will cost about $6.5 million, making the $2.8 million grant from the state’s Community Reinvestment/Redevelopment Fund a game-changer for FAME. It plans to start renovations on the 17,000-square-foot space this fall and finish them by the winter of 2022. Once completed, local students will be able to become more involved in STEM programs and have access to programs taught by certified educators.Among the features of the project are dedicated labs to biotechnology, media, food science, and engineering and computer science. FAME aims to increase its annual number of kids served from about 4,000 to 15,000 with the upgraded facility.As an alumnus of the program, Baker reminisced on how lucky he was to receive the opportunity at FAME as a teenager, but knew that when he became CEO his first step was to make the program available to more students.“When I became the CEO here, I had friends who confided in me over the years. They used to laugh and make jokes about me going to school in the summer and on Saturdays. As adults, they came back and said they really just wished they had the same opportunities as me,” he noted.FAME used to require at least a 3.0 GPA in order to be considered for the program, but Baker is already working on changing that, saying, “One of the first things that was on my mind was, ‘How do we create more opportunities for students who might not be high achievers?'”Baker is ready to extend the same experience he cherishes so much to students in Wilmington or even Delaware at large. There are a variety of programs that families in the area can take advantage of. Among them are tutoring for math, science and social skills, summer courses and courses during the school year. In order to give the students an environment that encourages growth, hard work and education, FAME has three “pillars” it focuses on: education/academic, workforce development and innovation.FAME prioritizes the kids and their interests. Baker recalled an activity where students were able to engineer their own special sneakers to solve a problem. For example, some students had parents who would jog early each morning, so they created sneakers with lights on the bottom. Another student decided they wanted to build alarms into his sneakers, so FAME provided the teachers and resources to help the idea come to life.The need to diversify the talent pool was made apparent in a 2015 National Science Foundation study, which found that white men made up 49% of employees in the science and engineering industries. Meanwhile, minorities made up only 37% total with Black employees totaling just 5%. In Wilmington, a city where 58% of residents are Black, FAME has the resources to make meaningful impacts.“[FAME is a place] where students can strengthen their academics but they also can align meaningful employment for themselves,” Baker said. “You know, we inspire career confidence, that's what FAME does. And that's what we have done for 45 years.”As they get closer to finishing their renovations, Baker encourages the community to become engaged in the project. In-kind donations and other donations will play a pivotal role in the future, allowing FAME to simulate working in the science or engineering industry.FAME is ready to make their impact on the community and on the industry of science and engineering. Baker said.“I think it is vital that we have more places where, not only students, but intergenerational learning can happen. This will be one of those spaces,” he said. “This will be a place where not just girls and students of color will be welcome but the [entire] community will be welcome.”By Eden CottoneContributing Writer