Community Engagement Grant Recipient: Elaine Kouame

Community STEM Series/Women in Science Mini-Symposium

Elaine Kouame wants to make campus a more inclusive space for scientists, while also engaging with the local community to bring science seminars to local students. Kouame’s Community STEM Series was created with the goal of giving students the space to dream and experience science. 

“You can be a great scientist with the resources you have,” Kouame said. 

The program consists of three sessions that will take place at a local community garden in Woodlawn. Graduate students from the University of Chicago will lead each seminar. The program will have sessions for elementary, middle, and high school students. 

Inspired by her personal experiences as a graduate student in the biological sciences, Kouame wants South Side students to have the opportunity to be exposed to role models in the field of science. She believes this program will be as beneficial for the graduate students as it will be for students in the community. Program success will be measured by attendance and by staying in touch with students after their tenure at local schools. Kouame wants these students to leave the program seeing themselves as scientists, feeling like they have resources at the University. Kouame’s hope is that this program will help forge deeper ties between the University and the surrounding community. 

The Women in Science Mini-Symposium is another passion project for Kouame, who wants to highlight women of color in the scientific community, as well as start a greater discussion about diversity. There is a general lack of diversity in the scientific community, and while diversity initiatives are bringing more women of color into the lab, they are not necessarily allowing them to have a voice. 

“Increasing numbers in departments is good, but we need better strategies to make sure voices are heard,” Kouame said. “There is already an implicit bias, among other issues women of color face.” The Mini-Symposium has been a long-time vision for Kouame and her co–team leader, Katie Aracena. Additional partner organizations contributed to the steering committee for the project, including the Association for Women in Math (AWM), Graduate Women in Computer Science (GWiCS), Women in Biological Sciences (WiBS), Society of Women Engineers (SWE), and the Graduate Recruitment Initiative Team (GRIT). The overarching goal was to create a space where science could be used as a vehicle to discuss social justice issues.

Kouame will measure the success of her symposium by monitoring the attendance of different departments. She hopes these symposiums will occur on a yearly basis and open new doors for scientists of color.

“You can be a great scientist with the resources you have.”

Elaine Kouame