NYer of the Week: Yamilee Toussaint Combines Two Passions to Introduce Young Women to STEM Fields
The latest New Yorker of the Week uses two lifelong passions as part of a special formula she hopes will add more girls to the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math. NY1's John Schiumo filed the following report.
Yamilee Toussaint rehearses to become a better performer, but the art of dance also taught her how to overcome self-doubt. Especially when it came to following her interests in the STEM fields: science, technology, engineering and math.
"I studied mechanical engineering at MIT largely from the influence of my father, who's a mechanical engineer. My brother's a mechanical engineer," Yamilee says. "When I was studying it, I saw how few people there were who looked like me."
So Yamilee is trying to change that. In 2012, she founded STEM from Dance. The nonprofit introduces young women from low-income neighborhoods to the STEM fields while empowering them through dance.
"After I graduated, I taught high school algebra for two years," Yamilee says. "Through meeting my students, realized how much confidence is a barrier to girls - in particular, girls of color - pursuing STEM, and thought, 'Dance has always been this way for me to be encouraged and for me to feel confident.'"
Every week, Yamilee works to untap the potential of dozens of high school students across the city. This year, they're learning choreography and coding. Both teach creativity, critical thinking and perserverance.
"You're saying, 'I haven't learned this dance. I'm pushing myself to my physical capacity to do something I've never done, but I believe I have the power to do that.' And I think you're doing the same thing with scientific inquiry," says dance coach Alison Hall Kibbe. "The dance side really opens up a lot of ways of thinking."
Including thinking more positively about themselves.
"My favorite part has been the coding, because at first, I was, like, a little iffy. I was like, 'OK, why am I not only dancing?' But when we started learning about coding, it just became so interesting," says student Franceluce Borgella. "Just take risks, take chances because you don't know what you're going to like or what you're not going to like."
"It made me become a better person in the environment that I'm in. It makes me feel comfortable and more courageous," says student Christina Peters. "Yamilee is a great teacher."
So, for uplifting young women, Yamilee Toussaint is the latest New Yorker of the Week.
For more information about the organization, visit stemfromdance.org.