I noticed Dr. Jesse Bemley at conferences, but I was not sure who he is and what he does until this summer. When I was finally introduced to him, I found him to be a soft-spoken man but one with a can-do personality. You see, Bemley has created an all-volunteer nonprofit organization, Joint Educational Facilities, that works primarily with secondary school students, teaching them advanced computing sciences and contemporary mathematical topics with an emphasis on intelligent technologies.
JEF, based in the Washington, DC, area, has been working on leveling the playing field for minority students in science, mathematics, and technology since before equity initiatives started emerging. Thus far, JEF volunteers have helped more than 400 students complete their high school education and, in many cases, pursue undergraduate degrees.
"The JEF program, for the near term, is focusing its efforts on hands-on science for preschool and elementary school students and making use of resources on the Internet," Bemley says. "The long-term goals for JEF are related to 1) developing strategies to get more African American students (high school and undergraduate) published in professional technical publications and doing presentations at national and international conferences, symposia, etc., and 2) providing more students who can and will successfully move through the science and engineering pipeline from secondary school to doctorate degrees."
Much has been written about that pipeline, and it's clear to most observers that more must be done in the early grades to keep students in it. What hasn't been discussed much is the unrealized potential of nontraditional channels. In my opinion, without the proliferation of grassroots organizations such as JEF, along with higher expectations of African American students by their parents and teachers, the status quo will not change.