Cal Ripken, Sr. Foundation and Exelon Foundation join forces to open 81 STEM centers

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By Megan Sayles,
AFRO Business Writer,
msayles@afro.com

Orioles hall-of-famer Cal Ripken Jr. and Exelon CEO Calvin Butler celebrated the ribbon-cutting of a new, state-of-the-art STEM center at Lansdowne Middle School on April 11. The hub is one of 81 that will open in elementary and middle schools across the East Coast as part of a collaboration between the Cal Ripken, Sr. Foundation (CRSF) and the Exelon Foundation. 

Butler committed $3 million over three years to open the centers, with the aim of exposing underserved youth to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education. 

“What I love about the STEM curriculum is it makes kids curious. It makes kids try to figure out how things work, why they work and how they can make them work better,” said Ripken Jr.

 “I think one of the most important things when dealing with kids is how can you expose them to things that might their natural aptitude to shine? We couldn’t be more proud to be affecting kids in a positive, big way all across the country.” 

The CRSF began establishing STEM centers in schools eight years ago. The foundation is named after Ripken Jr.’s late father, who’s often remembered for his devotion to coaching and mentoring young people. 

The April 11 ribbon-cutting ceremony marked the 500th center to open in the country. The 80 additional STEM centers will open in areas near Baltimore; Atlantic City, N.J.; Wilmington, Del.; Washington, D.C.; Philadelphia and Chicago. Through them, students have access to programmable robots, 3D printers, drones, Chromebooks and Snap Circuits. Teachers also receive training to implement STEM curriculum. 

For Butler, the initiative demonstrates the organizations’ belief in young people’s potential.

“As one of a few handfuls of African-American CEOs across the nation, my job while sitting in this seat is to encourage young people that they can do this,” said Butler. 

Black and Brown people, many of whom live in marginalized communities, have long been underrepresented in STEM industries. According to the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics (NCSES), Black and Brown workers represented 9 and 15 percent of the total STEM workforce in 2021, respectively. 

Butler said the STEM centers can introduce youth to opportunities that extend beyond the confines of their neighborhoods. 

“I came from these types of neighborhoods. I know what you can do, but you have to believe in yourself and you have to roll up your sleeves. You have to work hard,” said Butler. “It’s not going to be easy, but you need to know you have a support system, like the Cal Ripken, Sr. Foundation and Exelon Foundation, that will help you get there because none of us get there on our own.” 

Eighth-grade student Da’Sheyll Dixon, a member of Lansdowne Middle School’s STEM Robotics Club, thinks the new center will give her peers a leg-up in excelling in STEM as they move on to high school and college. 

She has already had the opportunity to interact with some of the center’s educational products, like the Sphero BOLT—a robotic ball designed to introduce youth to coding concepts. 

“Having this new STEM center will mean a lot to students going to high school and to the ones coming from elementary school because it will give them new learning experiences,” said Dixon. 

Megan Sayles is a Report for America corps member. 

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