Having been a college student for close to four years and having spent a year away from school on a year long Co-op, I can certainly say I have gained a much more worldly perspective since my beginning at the University of Pittsburgh. It is important that when you’re in the middle of the latter half of your education that you sit down and ask yourself the question “how did I get here?!” When I do this, there are so many blessing that I count – whether it be my family, friends, and advisors. If I have learned anything from all the individuals who have tirelessly supported me, it is that one must always remember where they came from, and help those less fortunate than themselves.
Educational inequalities and systemic failures of our communities plague much of the population from achieving the success that some, myself included, can often take for granted. In bioengineering, one of the fastest growing fields of work, we as undergraduate students and young professionals have the opportunity to address this by allowing for a healthy, inclusive growth. While we can look around at our classmates at Pitt and see diversity in our classes and our department, there still is so much work that is left to be done.
As an outreach coordinator for the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE), I see these issues first hand in the Pittsburgh area as I read the numbers and meet with community leaders. From the halls of the mayor’s office to small church groups, the message is clear: poor and minority children are being left behind in the STEM field. 73% of African American students were not proficient in Math by 11th grade (counting only those who did not drop out beforehand) and Pittsburgh faces one of the worst food deserts in the nation. In the past, this issue has been addressed in so many different ways, but in my role I looked at the issue with the same mindset as we are all taught as engineers: work together. My idea, which is a simple concept and not completely new, is based on sharing is caring.
What we, as young bioengineers, can share with these kids is our passion. A months ago, some Pitt students and myself attended a science fair at a local middle school where we got to demo and share bioengineering to the students. We got the kids excited to learn and created a mock scenario about bioengineering a new arm so Steph Curry could get back from shattering his forearm. It may not be super formal, but it got the kids thinking about engineering for the first time, and we even had one girl (who at the beginning said she thought science was boring) say she now wanted to become an engineer!
So I’m asking you all: share what you love about engineering with someone new in these next few months. Go to a school and talk about your research. Show a young kid a cool new device and show him how to build it. Make a nifty video of a medical breakthrough. Take a moment to think about a time when someone has reached back to help you through this maze called “engineering”. If we all just a take a moment to reach back and share with our less-privileged communities what makes us do bioengineering, there’s no doubt our field and our society as whole will be able to thrive and say “we did it!”
Casey Rayburg is a 4th year Bioengineering major at the University of Pittsburgh pursuing a minor in Industrial Engineering and a certificate in Product Realization. He is a former co-op in Technical Operations at Johnson & Johnson, and former undergrad research assistant under Dr. Shroff studying cardiac fibrosis. He currently serves as the outreach coordinator for Pitt’s National Society of Black Engineers chapter, working to increase the accessibility of STEM education to underrepresent youth in the Pittsburgh region.