Making Connections Through STEM

Kenny Williams ’21 (left) and Shuaibu "Sha" Ali ’21 (right) mentor students at Vermont's Hartford High School. Photo by Kata Sasvari

Shuaibu “Sha” Ali ’21 and Kenny Williams ’21 share a passion for medicine and a vision of a more equitable world. They also share a deep appreciation for the mentors who helped them believe that they, two men of color, could have the same opportunities as everyone else—including careers as physicians. 

When Ali and Williams applied to the Schweitzer Fellows Program—a one-year mentored fellowship program focused on health-related community service and leadership development—they seized the chance to lead the Upper Valley STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) Scholars and introduce local underserved youth to a world of possibility.

“I know somebody sparked my interest in STEM, so to be the flint that starts the fire in someone else is humbling,” says Williams.

The program at Hartford High School in Vermont was initiated by Luke Mayer ’20 and Chad Lewis ’20 when they were Schweitzer Fellows in 2017. When Ali and Williams inherited the project, they continued to engage students in STEM activities and discuss STEM career options—but that’s not all they did.

“We learned that there was a group of students of color at Lebanon High School who were feeling like they didn’t have access to people of color who were in leadership positions in the Upper Valley,” explains Ali. “We saw that as an opportunity to expand the project.”

In addition to visiting both schools regularly, Ali and Williams brought all the students together for activities at Geisel. The high-schoolers learned about organs, the musculoskeletal system, and disease processes in the anatomy lab, and discussed the ways that societal issues, such as poverty and racial status, impact the health of communities.

“We’ve connected people who have different forms of marginalization, whether that’s being under-resourced or being under-represented, and used STEM to help them see the things they have in common—and that they have the power to bring change to their communities,” Ali says.

Watch a video about the Upper Valley STEM Scholars:

By Tim Dean and Lauren Seidman