From Detroit to STEM College

“90% of the community we serve through the Philadelphia Education Fund will be the first in their family to go to college” reads one of the scrolling headlines on the Philadelphia Education Fund’s homepage.

That statistic made me pause and think….”What’s that like?  How much of an impact does that have?”   Those questions lead me to learn more about my own story and share it with you here:

Although I’ve lived in the Philadelphia area for most of my life, my closest friends and family know that I am was born and raised in the Detroit area and proud of it.   If you’ve never been and you’re too young to have lived during World War II, then you’ve probably never heard of “The Fist”, the most iconic art installation Detroit has to offer.   I myself do not prefer Modern Art, however, I feel “The Fist”.   Not only is it a symbol of American pride, but also it is a pure, raw representation of Detroit culture dating back to the 1930’s.   

Getting to know Kimberly P: A good conversation starter is Detroit culture (see story in link).

Now that you’ve landed your mind’s eye in Detroit, picture the time shortly after World War II ended when, my father, David, was born and raised in a single family home just outside of Detroit city limits amongst a neat row of similar homes on a dirt road near a community church.  The house was built by my great-grandfather, a carpenter, and passed down to my grandfather, Edward who worked at a Tool and Die shop.   My grandmother, Virginia, worked in a cafeteria but was mostly home for her 6 children.   David didn’t think too much about college until he went to high school at Notre Dame: a Catholic, all-male, college preparatory school.  Since mostly everyone in the college prep school went on to college, so did my father.   Although he held several jobs between the library and the railroad, he still had to stay local so that he could save up enough money to pay for his college courses by living at home.   He chose Wayne State University and completed his degree in Business Administration with a focus on Accounting.  He was the first in the family to complete a Bachelor’s degree.   He worked at several Accounting firms and eventually ventured to start his own business.

1st Generation University for Kimberly P’s family

Around this time, David welcomed his first and only child into the world, me.  He had just moved 1 mile further outside Detroit city limits.  He (my father) worked at his CPA firm while my mother, Beverly, stayed home to take care of me.  When I was four, we moved to the suburbs, 20 miles outside of Detroit.  When I was five, I remember first speaking about college and college degrees with my godfather, “Uncle Norman”, an Electrical Engineer. The college I envisioned myself in changed over the years, but nonetheless college was always in my sight.   I attended a parochial catholic school starting in 3rd grade, and moved onto a private, Catholic all-female high school.  I applied to over 12 colleges and Universities from Stanford to Dartmouth spanning the country searching for a perfect match to my education in Chemical Engineering.   I received more rejection letters than acceptances, but that didn’t matter – I felt that I could…I believed…so I did.  Villanova University offered a dedicated Chemical Engineering building for studies along with guaranteed on-campus housing for female students, 1 scholarship, 1 grant and 3 student loans to make it all possible.  The balance of my room and board my father funded as well as I supplemented myself by working in the Tech center on campus.  I not only completed my Bachelors in Chemical Engineering, but also I went on to complete my Masters in Chemical Engineering with a Certificate in Environmental Protection.  I worked at two large corporations, one chemical based, one pharmaceutical based and both sent me traveling all over the globe.  Needless to say, I ended up over 600 miles outside of Detroit.

Villanova University, just outside of Philadelphia, celebrates First Gen college students (see story in link).

Amidst the working and the travelling, I welcomed my own daughter into the world, Izabela.  She too lived in her parent’s second house, but this one was located ten miles outside of Philadelphia’s city limits.  All of her aunts and uncles including close friends of the family have college degrees and some, including her father, work at a University.  She was the first in the family to attend day care as an infant as both parents worked in STEM fields full-time.  She started Pre-K at a private catholic school and currently attends a private catholic middle school.  She has not lived a day without thinking about going to college.   It’s been Villanova University steady so far ever since she could talk.  She’s even picked her roommates.  She doesn’t have her major of study, but that doesn’t matter.  There is no can or can’t.  There is no belief or lack of belief.  There just is.  She’s planning on going to college, and most likely she will.

Photo by Stanley Morales on Pexels.com

Now, I am a data scientist, so I know there are other factors in this case study to be explored and examined such as education pathways and social class.   That being said, in my tiny, singular experience a few profound observations can be made:

  1. It took the first generation in my family, through my father, to have the will and perseverance to find a way to complete college. 
  2. By the second generation, a female in the family completed both Bachelors and Masters in a STEM field.
  3. By the third generation, a female doesn’t even question whether she is going to college or not. 

Can you imagine what you will observe of the children and grandchildren of the Philadelphia youth we will be impacting through the Philadelphia STEM Equity Collective now?  Will they find the means and the ends to complete a college degree through our collaboration and break into a pattern of college education for their family?   Can you imagine the Philadelphia area flooded with scientists, data analysts, engineers and coders?  And how and where in the world these potential STEM students will make their mark?  I can, and it’s a wonderful view.  Let’s #STEM together Philly!

3 comments

  1. What a wonderful story, thanks for sharing Kimberly. Agree, so many other factors to be explored and explained including structural, systemic racism in education from pre-school to higher education. There’s no denying education is key, as is clear from your story and observations, but the path is easier for some than for others. Yes, I can imagine and get excited thinking about the future with initiatives such as the STEM Equity Collective. I know the work you are supporting will contribute to that wonderful view, hopefully in the not so distant future. Thank you

  2. Its great to hear that GSK is participating in programs for first gen students. As a first gener myself, I’m always looking for little ways help out. I’d love to learn more.

  3. Great blog, Kim. Really appreciate your observations and sharing your experiences. I was struck by your three “singular observations” – very impactful! If we take that one step further, the question becomes – how do we inspire young people who don’t always have good role models or advocates to not even question whether they are going to college? And how do we get them into STEM careers? I can’t wait to hear what your experiences are around this in this PULSE assignment!

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