Building a better world
February 22, 2016 - “Faith is taking one step at a time, even when you cannot see the whole staircase.” Martin Luther King, Jr.
An FBI agent. A teacher. A judge. A story writer. A lawyer. A track runner. A doctor. On a recent January evening, a classroom of middle school girls enthusiastically spoke about their futures, eager to share their dreams.
The 20 girls from Ferguson Middle School shouted their career aspirations, prompted by Ramona Tumblin-Rucker, BJC design and construction project manager, and Henry Woods, Campus Renewal Project engineer. The boisterous exercise featured clapping, laughter and encouragement.
“My name’s Ramona, and I’m an engineer,” Tumblin-Rucker sing-songed in time to the claps of the girls. “What’s your name, and what will you be when you grow up?” Ramona shouted, pointing to the girls, one by one.
Tumblin-Rucker and Woods connected with the girls through the Boys and Girls Club of Greater St. Louis (BGCSTL) Great Futures Speaker Series. The program encourages students, through successful role models, toward academic success, high school graduation, goal-setting, college readiness, and career and job readiness. Speakers inspire students to think beyond high school.
“The students were engaged and excited, but what’s even more exciting is to have someone who looks like your parents talking about college and careers,” says Tumblin-Rucker. “The feeling of ‘I know you’ is an immediate emotional connection, an identifiable link to. It's great to walk into a room and identify with others.”
Shuntae Shields Ryan, BGCSTL vice president of marketing and communications, says the professional guest speakers serve as role models, motivating youth to stay on track to high school graduation with a plan for their futures to establish healthy careers and financial security. Twice a month, the students can learn about the paths taken by successful adults and that success is attainable.
Woods, too, was impressed with the focus and energy of the girls. “They were very engaged and attentive in learning our dreams when we were younger, what we’re doing now and how school plays a vital role,” Woods says.
Woods and Tumblin-Rucker focused their discussion on career opportunities in science, technology, engineering and math – or STEM – in which minorities and women are starkly underrepresented. According to US News& World Report, February 2015, the STEM workforce is no more diverse than it was in 2001. As engineers, the two barely make a dent in the underrepresented world of STEM. Their hope that evening was to spark the interest in at least one child through their example.
Their paths to engineering and community service stems from the role models they were fortunate to have growing up. Strong beliefs in education, work ethic, family and community were instilled at young age.
Woods was inspired by his grandfather, Harry McClain. Time together included sitting on the porch after dinner talking about Woods’ school day and eating popsicles. “When we finished the popsicles, my grandfather would use the popsicle sticks to teach me about math, accounting and building.”
His grandfather’s positive influence, coupled with a negative experience in middle school, was the breeding ground for his pursuit of STEM education and community outreach.
“My counselor did nothing to encourage me, nor did she recommend me for higher education. This did not sit well with my parents or me. So I challenged myself to prove her wrong. Years later, I have a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering and a master’s degree in business administration (MBA).”
Tumblin-Rucker had strong female role models in her grandmother and mother. Early on, they imparted that setting greater goals, versus easy or vague goals, leads to greater effort and persistence. That wisdom, coupled with guidance and preparation through INROADS, challenged her to continually strive for excellence in career, life long learning and community service.
“When I was young, there were people who saw my value as part of the community,” says Tumblin-Rucker. “I want to extend that energy back to the community that cared for and encouraged my growth and development.”
Through her community outreach, you can bet that Tumblin-Rucker will encourage the growth and development of the lives she touches. The 20 girls at Ferguson Middle School were engaged, excited and eager.
“Does anyone know what STEM means,” she asked? Most hands shot up.
Tumblin-Rucker called on a girl in the middle of the room. “Science, technology, engineering and math,” she shouted. The rest of the girls followed, with Ramona’s lead, shouting and clapping, “Science. Technology. Engineering. Math.”
Lowering her voice, then, Tumblin-Rucker, in a whisper just loud enough for them to hear, her hand beside her mouth as if telling them a secret, said. “Don’t tell anyone what I’m about to tell you – it can’t leave this room.”
Hands flew up to get her attention. “What, what? Tell me, tell me,” many replied.
“There are more women in college than men. Did you know that? That means you. Degrees matter! But don’t tell anyone.”
At the conclusion of the hour, the BGCSTL coordinator instructed the girls to grab their backpacks. As they lined up to fill their brown lunch bags with snacks Woods and Tumblin-Rucker brought, a few conversations continued about careers and STEM while others drifted toward homework, sports and typical teenaged social topics.
Though the hour was short, the speakers were satisfied. “Every one of them, without missing a beat, shouted what they wanted to be when they grow up. Every single one. Someone has planted the seed early with them. If they set their minds, they can become anything,” says Tumblin-Rucker.
Woods adds, “I hope the young ladies heard something, realized something that will inspire them to pursue a career in STEM or engage them in making a difference in someone else’s life.”
Tumblin-Rucker adds, “My prayer is that every day they feel valued and loved. I hope I’ve left them with information they can use and the feeling to dream big, that they heard something that may one day change their lives or be that missing link and drives a passion to choose a positive action.”