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How Black Girls Dive combines scuba diving lessons and STEM

Founder Nevada Winrow discusses the program for 9-17 year-old girls, where swimming, robotics, art, water conservation and more come together.

Black Girls Dive, an Owings Mills-based organization, offers classes for girls from the ages of  9 to 17 in scuba diving. STEM is incorporated alongside the diving lessons, allowing girls to dive not only into bodies of water, but also into topics such as robotics, engineering and mathematics.

Nevada Winrow, the founder of Black Girls Dive, is combining two missions into one organization: address the cultural narratives about African Americans and swimming, and spark a conversation about water conservation.

“I was looking for a space where girls from underserved communities could come together and explore their STEM identities and do it through the lens of conservation,” said Winrow. “Another part of it was the cultural narrative about blacks and swimming. We know that they are five times more likely to drown than white children. From a historical standpoint, blacks weren’t allowed into public pools and this has had a generational impact.”

A study published on the Black Girls Dive website states that 70 percent of African American children have little to no swimming ability. Alongside of this, black children from the ages of 5 to 14 are three times more likely to drown than white children.

According to Winrow, historical connotations, the inability to swim, and the general fear of water have prevented black women from pursuing opportunities in the aquatic sphere.

“Historically when people are asked to describe a scientist, the thing that pops into their mind is a white man with a lab coat. It’s trying to change that image where they can see themselves, instead of seeing someone that doesn’t look like them, as a
possibility,” said Winrow. “The more and more people can see themselves as a scientist, the more individuals are likely to choose that as a major, particularly when you’re dealing with the aquatic sciences. When it comes to the aquatic sciences, little black and brown girls don’t see that yet.”

In order to spark interest in marine science, every Saturday the girls are immersed in activities where they learn physics, physiology, coral ecology, and robotics. The participants of the program build their own underwater remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) in order to take water samples, record videos and take pictures. Art is also integrated into the program with topics such as underwater photography and 3D printing being taught. “Onshore” lessons are taught at Randallstown Recreation Center and diving lessons take place at the Y Swim Center.

Black Girls Dive recently received $5,000 from the Society for Science and the Public, a D.C. – based organization that has a grant program supporting organizations that increase participation of underrepresented populations in the STEM field.

“The STEM Action Program is where we support really extraordinary leaders at the grassroots level who are looking at ways of filling a STEM void with underserved kids in their community,” said Maya Aimera, the President and CEO of the Society
for Science and the Public. “Black Girls Dive is one of those prime examples in Baltimore.”

The grant will be used for professional development, new equipment for the students, and most importantly, will help cover travel expenses for the facilitators and the students.

At the end of each year, the students take a capstone trip that serves as a culmination of all the skills and knowledge that they’ve gathered. This year, the girls went on their first capstone trip to Andros Island where they became PADI certified scuba divers. This means that the girls are qualified to dive to a maximum depth of 40 feet with the supervision of an instructor. The next capstone trip will be to Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, where the girls will get a chance to dive in the Red Sea.

Black Girls Dive is planning on expanding by adding an additional program for girls ranging from the ages of six to nine. They also have plans of expanding geographically with new chapters of the organization opening in Georgia, New Jersey and overseas in Samoa and Fiji.

“We need environmental stewards, and the research shows that we need to start them young in building that sense of ownership,” said Winrow. “The ocean represents 70% of the Earth. With all of the things going on, we need the next generation of ocean guardians to really take a lead in ensuring that we can preserve one of our most precious natural resources.”

Series: Technologists of Color Month 2019

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