Greensboro has seen an influx of refugees from around the world in the last few decades; it is home to the third largest refugee population of any U.S city, with North Carolina ranking fifth in refugee population out of all fifty states. Education is where many refugee youth are hardest hit. Between 2002 and 2011, the United States admitted 515,350 refugees, a third of whom were under the age of 18. These children often struggle with the relocation process, particularly in areas of education. Yet, little has been done to study ways to increase potential academic achievements and this student demographic remains one of the most marginalized and under-researched groups in the United States.
As a result, in 2001, the University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG) established the Center for New North Carolinians(CNNC), with the aim of supporting refugees and immigrants living in the local community.
For the past year, the CNNC piloted a STEM club program for female refugees and immigrants using littleBits’ electronic building blocks. With the financial support of littleBits and other potential partners, CNNC will provide science learning to 20 girls. Participants come from Greensboro’s diverse population of refugees hailing from Somalia, Burma, Sudan, Ethiopia, Nepal, Rwanda and other countries, representing over 10 languages.
“We want to empower refugee girls to be innovators and creators in STEM. In partnering with littleBits, we hope to short-circuit the language barrier that often holds back refugee youths’ engagement in science,” said Edna Tan,associate professor of science education at UNCG. “Using littleBits and its intuitive electronic building blocks, refugee youth will be able to not only be learners of science or engineering processes, but take on and experience what it can be like to be a youth engineer and maker.”
At the 2015 Clinton Global Initiative Annual Meeting, littleBits pledged to support the CNNC STEM program, providing littleBits hardware, mentoring and project consultation.