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Meet Kristen Newsome of My Sister’s Keeper Success Institute in Temecula, Riverside County

Today we’d like to introduce you to Kristen Newsome.

Kristen, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
My passion to empower and uplift women has led me to my current role as Founder and Executive Director of My Sister’s Keeper Success Institute (MSKSI). My Sister’s Keeper Success Institute is a California Nonprofit Public Benefit Corporation, 501 c (3) Mentoring Program for girls in under-represented groups ages 10-17 that focuses on career exploration in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) utilizing integration of ARTS as a teaching tool for STEM (STEAM). We also offer programs for Personal Growth and Development. I founded the program because of the under-representation of girls, and especially girls of color, in STEM career paths and higher education. The challenges for these young women of color pursuing STEM really became clear to me when my daughter entered college as a Biology major. She would share with me the struggles she encountered with instructors, other students, and even her peers questioning her ability to complete a science degree and be successful in accomplishing her future career goals in STEM. My daughter had always loved science and had a gift for understanding complex concepts in science. She would come alive whenever she talked about what she had learned in any of her favorite classes. This experience shook her confidence and left me feeling compelled to address this issue not only for her, but for others that would share similar experiences.

I realized then that every day that girls don’t have the confidence to reach their potential and combat gender and racial stereotypes, the world misses out on their creative and innovative ideas, perspectives and problem-solving. Starting with a group of parents who had an interest in having their daughters engaged in a STEAM Program in our local community in Temecula, CA, we started our first STEAM Mentoring session in the Winter of 2018 with five girls. The program is gradually building supporters and participants by word of mouth, and with the support of other local programs and advocates throughout Riverside County. Our goal is to reach 100 girls through the program this year to expose them to possibilities for their future that they may have never imagined or known was available to them and provide a supportive community for them to connect with.

Has it been a smooth road?
There have been many struggles along the way, first of which is shifting the paradigm that exists that women are not skillful or competent in math and science, and therefore should not pursue those fields. Within communities of color, this paradigm has even stronger implications, especially for Latina and African American young women.

When it comes to economic sustainability, STEM fields open the way. Not encouraging black and brown girls to consider STEM can relegate them to lesser paying careers, and non-growth industries. Within STEM fields, where salaries already tend to be higher than normal, STEM education level influences salary in profound ways. Many professionals with doctoral or professional degrees will earn over $100,000 a year, even in entry-level positions with no previous experience. The Bureau of Labor Statistics listed several jobs as having median salaries above $100,000, including many of those mentioned as the best jobs for STEM graduates. Engineering and computer science jobs dominated the list of highest paying STEM jobs, along with astronomers, physicists and mathematicians with graduate and doctoral degrees.

Now consider the impact for young women of color. According to statistics provided by Girls Pursuing Science, in 2012, white women earned 6,777 PhDs in STEM fields. On the other hand, white men earned 8,478 Ph.D. degrees. For African American women, that number dwindles to 684—10 times fewer scientific doctorates than their white counterparts. With only 3.5% of STEM Bachelor degrees, Latina women face an even larger obstacle. Our efforts to make an impact on these numbers requires support, commitment from parents, board members and advocates to see the change happen.

We have a continuous effort to enlist mentors in our program. We are looking for women who not only feel a connection to our mission and our passion to empower and uplift young women of color, but also are engaged in all aspects of STEAM; we welcome college students, professionals, retirees, or even people who just have a personal interest or hobby in the arts or science. We also look for women in mental health/social sciences who want to support the personal growth and development of young women.

Lastly, as a relatively new nonprofit organization, we rely largely on private donations to fund our efforts. Building a committed donor base is a very intentional process, and we work hard to take care of our supporters with a staff of volunteers, amongst the other administrative jobs that are required to keep a program running. We keep our activity fees low so that girls of all socioeconomic backgrounds can participate. Funds are needed to provide sponsorship for girls whose parents are unable to make one more financial obligation. As our program grows, we also consider the lack of affordable commercial space in our community that would meet our needs as the program expands. Though these are challenges we face as an organization, we are confident that as others learn about our efforts, we will garner the support and assistance to make an even larger impact in Southwest Riverside County.

So, as you know, we’re impressed with My Sister’s Keeper Success Institute – tell our readers more, for example what you’re most proud of as a company and what sets you apart from others.
I am proud that we expose black and brown girls to STEM careers with lifestyle-driven educational programs that ignite creativity, critical thinking, collaboration, and communication. Our focus goes beyond learning about STEM as facts, numbers and formulas and hard science, but about encouraging curiosity, fostering creativity, and developing habits of mind (ways of thinking about the world) that will turn them into the kinds of problem-solvers, innovators, and inventors our future depends on.

One characteristic that sets us apart is our commitment to personal and professional growth.  We offer four 5-week Pathways and 10-week Coding Clubs to explore STEM Careers. The STEAM Pathways we offer are: Saving the Planet (Environmental Science), Helping People Live Healthy Lives (Medical & Health Sciences), Connecting People and Information (Technology), and How Things Work (Engineering, Aviation & Math). In the summer, we hold a Personal Growth Workshop called MSKSI School of Awake that includes an interactive curriculum to help girls develop the competencies needed to effectively communicate ideas and feelings, develop healthy relationships with self and others, embrace her authentic self, develop mindfulness and a growth mindset and learn strategies for self-care. We also offer special half-day workshops with an emphasis on exploring Entrepreneurship and Arts, field trips, special events, and our inspirational annual awards and recognition event, Empower Her: Mentoring Rising Stars Conference held in December.

Another effort we are proud of is the work we are doing to empower the next generation of women. We do this by addressing larger social issues affecting women of color and encouraging them to pursue careers in growth industries, helping to address the gender pay gap by encouraging girls to pursue careers less affected by pay disparity and to know and negotiate their worth, and addressing gender and racial bias through positive role-modeling in mentors, and by helping girls to build healthy mindsets and practices that will help them sustain the success they achieve in life, in the face of challenges and negative conditions

Let’s touch on your thoughts about our city – what do you like the most and least?
I enjoy the diversity of San Diego, the culture and the access to resources and opportunity here. Being a military family, we also enjoy the military culture and the beauty of the region in general. San Diego also has a robust STEM/STEAM ecosystem and many innovative companies that support STEM initiatives and engagement for youth. Companies like Qualcomm, Verizon, SDG&E, and General Atomics are but a few of the leaders in advancing STEM learning & education for youth in San Diego. What I like least about San Diego is the traffic! It is also very expensive to live here, which creates a crisis for the needy and homeless. Overall, though I live in Temecula Valley, I LOVE San Diego and go there as often as I can!  I feel very blessed to live here in beautiful Southern California doing the work I love!

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