Q&A: The Making of a Mentor: Inspiring the Next Generation Through STEM Education

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March 22, 2024

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(STAFFORD, Va.) — As technology advancements continue to reshape the job market a vast majority of current students are destined for careers yet to emerge.  At the helm of initiatives like Youth Empowers Service (YES) and STEAM Imagine, Belinda Jones is on a mission to empower elementary students to harness their creativity and envision futures as boundless as space exploration. 

During a recent interview with The Click, Jones, 58, explained the origins of YES, her personal and professional inspirations, and how the initiative is shaping the next generation of STEM leaders, starting with its youngest learners.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

What was the defining moment or key inspiration behind the establishment of YES in 2016?

[I’ve] been talking about YES since the [early] 2000s. I always had this concept in my mind about YES. And I wanted to do something for youth, particularly because [of] what happened to me as a youth [as a child to a single mother], again, you heard me say I have no siblings. I had a lot of friends, but I had a lot of people (educators, mentors) who put the extra hand out and [said], “Let me help you get to the next place.” That’s something that stuck with me. I never forgot.

In your journey to becoming a mentor and leader in STEM education, who have been your role models or influences, and how have they shaped your approach? 

I did have a couple of models, starting with my grandfather. My grandfather had a fourth-grade education but went into the army for eight years, got out, and he was an entrepreneur. He owned everything from real estate to restaurants to rental properties. When I realized he only had a fourth-grade education, that inspired me more. Like, if I got the education on top of everything else if he accomplished all of that, I could do more. So, it started with him. 

Belinda Jones (right) with Nadeah West, the inaugural awardee of the Odell-Carrie Entrepreneurship Community Scholarship, established in tribute to her grandparents.

Given the rapid advancements in technology and science, how is YES positioned to equip young minds to navigate and contribute to the future landscape of STEM fields?

Yes, technology and science fields are evolving rapidly every day.  [The] Department of Defense has released there are over 240 STEM career occupations in 2024 and still growing.  STEM fosters confidence of students, particularly in science, with a growing interest in STEM-related careers.

YES, appears to have a significant focus on elementary-aged children. Can you elaborate on why you’ve chosen this demographic as your primary audience and how your programs cater to their unique learning stages?

Yes. The elementary kids, I tell you, they are so smart! 

Belinda Jones (far left) inaugurates the STARBASE educational initiative at Vandenberg Air Force Base in 2020, offering enriching programs to fifth graders in California’s Lompoc Unified School District. Captured during a live broadcast on News Channel 3.

Could you recount a particularly impactful moment or success story that encapsulates the spirit and achievements of your programs?

There are so many moments when we have witnessed a direct impact of youth participating in one of our STEM programs. The one event I will mention is when we actually ran out of time in one of our STEM projects to complete the project in one day at camp.  Some of the youths asked if they could take the STEM project home and finish the project. They came back on the next day of STEM camp excited and could not wait to show us they went home and stayed up until they completed the project.  We happily took a picture of them with their completed STEM project.  That is a memorable and breakthrough moment we will never forget that displayed the perseverance, passion, and persistence of the youth wanting to finish their STEM project and come back to show everyone they were successful at completing their STEM accomplishment.  Priceless.

 

 

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