When Cautney Nelson, 23, first created her nonprofit Millennial Science in December 2018, she wanted to put a fun twist on making research articles more digestible for readers. Nelson soon switched gears to bringing Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) programs to children in low-income areas.
The Stony Brook senior biochemistry major was intrigued with science from a young age. She wanted to go to STEM summer camps as a child, but her mother — a single parent — struggled to afford it. Nelson wants her nonprofit to offer children opportunities that she didn’t have growing up.
“It would have helped me so much more had I been given the exposure at an early age,” she said.
That gave Nelson the idea to help younger students explore the STEM field, free of charge. Her goal is to attract children who are not only minorities but are also at an economic disadvantage.
“Not enough underprivileged areas receive attention or the support to make sure kids don’t fall through the cracks. This program can help bridge that gap,” Catherine Justice, an alumna from Farmingdale State College and the Director of Strategic Planning for the nonprofit, said.
Millennial Science partners with libraries from different communities, specifically in Nassau County, to hold their events. Volunteers for Millennial Science come from Stony Brook University’s Biology Club, but Nelson said they “can always use a million extra hands at all times.”
“It’s based in the community, [so] they don’t have to take the bus or anything. It’s right there, and for parents it’s easy to commute… and they don’t have to pay for parking,” Nelson said.
Usually 20 to 30 kids come to their events, where STEM subjects are taught with activities that have a fun and interactive twist. Millenial’s most recent event at the Great Neck Library Station Branch focused on radiology with a Halloween theme. Children were able to use x-ray pictures of fractured bones to sort and put together the human body.
Sacha Nelson, a 25-year-old social media manager for Millenial Science and Nelson’s sister, found the nonprofit useful when she attended one of its events and believes the club will benefit her child in the future. She loved the program so much that she wanted to be a part of the team.
“It’s giving kids of all ages a chance to learn about sciences… They can expand their mind more,” Sacha Nelson said. She hopes that Millennial Science will teach kids “to love science.”
Asia Riddick, a 23-year-old graduate student studying public relations and corporate communications at New York University and the public relations manager for Millennial Science, was passionate about the idea of joining the nonprofit because she wanted to “make sure access is given to people in marginalized communities.” Riddick thinks that it is the organization’s duty to give back to preteens who don’t have the same opportunities that other young students might have.
Starting in January, Nelson’s nonprofit will partner with the STEM Advocacy Institute, another nonprofit based in Boston that has a mission of “strengthening the network of access to science education, communication, and engagement.” The two organizations will start a curriculum for a STEM program aimed towards ninth and 10th graders at Uniondale Senior High School. The four week long program will educate the Uniondale students on the various careers available in the STEM field.
Although Nelson emphasized that Millennial Science’s education initiatives are valuable to students of all ages, she pointed out that they’re especially valuable to those who are trying to figure out what they’re going to do for the rest of their lives.
“Ninth and 10th grade, that’s when you’re clearly deciding what colleges [you] might be looking into, by 11th grade you’re already applying, and then 12th grade you’re making sure you have all the banners and signs from the school you’re going to,” she said. “You need to get them while they’re young and still making those vital decisions.”
Working with the high school will also allow the nonprofit to track student progress, which opens up the possibility of applying for funding and grants.