Minorities brighten up the future of science and technology

Story and photo by SAYAKA KOCHI

STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) is a key field for innovations. As demand increases for researchers and engineers in Utah, the underrepresented minorities, especially those with roots in Latin America, are needed to be scientific innovators.

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Katherine Kireiev, STEM communication manager at the Utah STEM Action Center.

“It doesn’t matter what the color of skin is. STEM is helping to improve human lives, and maybe, the technologies are based on our abilities to keep up with them,” Katherine Kireiev said. She is an underrepresented first-generation American born to Russian parents. She works at the Utah STEM Action Center as a STEM communication manager, supporting Utah citizens including Latinxs to engage in sciences.

Latinx people are less likely to pursue higher education or their careers in the STEM fields, compared to other ethnic groups. According to a 2018 Pew Research Center report, Hispanics are significantly underrepresented in most STEM occupations; only 7 percent of all STEM workers in the U.S. are Hispanics, while 69 percent are Caucasians.

“The Latino culture of filial piety can be one of those things where they are expected to go into similar lines of work. Or maybe not given the right messaging to drive them toward college or science at home,” Kireiev said.

“Latinos are very family oriented and tend to work more in hands-on jobs rather than go and pursue higher education, because culturally, over generations, they don’t think that’s a pathway,” she said.

“What we do here in this agency is to try to make equity across all of the population,” Kireiev explained about what the center, located at 60 E. South Temple in Salt Lake City, is doing. The Utah STEM Action Center creates children’s “wow” and “why” moments by organizing STEM-related events, showing how science works around them.

“We try to equip students with opportunities that they wouldn’t dream of,” Kireiev said.

“With our very large Latino population in the state of Utah, we target public schools and charter schools. … We’re really trying to get teachers to recognize that [we need to] start them young and get them young and just show them that it can be really fun,” Kireiev said. For example, students are given a little toy that can be programmed to follow different color patterns. “It’s really cool and they say, ‘Oh, my gosh. I made it do that?’ Once students make these physical connections and see in actuality that hands-on piece, then it really lights them up,” she said. 

SACNAS (Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science) is also an organization supporting college students in the minority groups to build up their community in the STEM fields.

“SACNAS offers a lot of career development, a lot of workshops to help with applying for grad schools, med schools,” said Reuben Ryan Cano in a phone interview. He was born and raised in Utah, and his parents are both from Mexico. He became the president of SACNAS University of Utah chapter while studying as a pre-med biology student at the University of Utah.

“There is a lot of networking that goes on. There is a chance to present their research, learning how to present, and also see other presentations, sharing science as well as sharing those professional skills,” Cano said. “SACNAS can engage minorities in STEM by building a community, providing support necessarily, and professionally encouraging skill development.”

The connection is vital when motivating underrepresented students to be exposed to scientific fields. Lace Padilla, the former vice president of SACNAS University of Utah chapter who currently works as a post-doctoral fellow at Northeastern University, has discovered the importance of connection through an unexpected meeting.

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Lace Padilla has a Ph.D. in cognitive neuroscience. Photo courtesy of Padilla.

Padilla was born to a Mexican-Native American mother and a Caucasian father. She grew up in a small mountain town in Colorado. Her first career was not in science but in an artistic field.

“Where I grew up, people didn’t become a scientist. I never knew any scientists, and I didn’t think someone who looked like me could be a scientist,” Padilla said. Her art career started when she got to know an artist in her hometown. Inspired by the artist who trained Padilla, she became a graphic designer.

“But I always loved science. I graduated first in my class, but for whatever reasons, I never met a college counselor. Just nobody encouraged me to pursue science. So I just didn’t think it was an option,” Padilla said.

After she came to Utah to complete her master’s degree in arts at the University of Utah, she happened to meet a woman who was studying visual perception.

“Visual perception is a really interesting field because it is a science of how our visual system understands the world around us. It was so cool because that was always what I wanted to study in arts,” Padilla explained. Thanks to this meeting, Padilla was encouraged to get into the science field, a decision that changed her life.

Padilla became a graduate research assistant in the visual perception and spatial cognition research lab under the professor’s mentorship and finished her doctoral program in cognitive neuroscience at the U. Since 2018, she has been working as a National Science Foundation (NSF) postdoctoral research fellow at Northeastern University in Boston.

“I wouldn’t have gotten to science if it wasn’t for just randomly meeting this woman who believed in me,” Padilla said.

“Sometimes minority groups get passed over for science because they don’t know someone that can show the way they should have,” Padilla said. “One of the biggest applying factors that makes a minoritized person successful in STEM is having a mentor. If you don’t have a mentor, it’s hard to find a path.”

The current STEM fields are not diversified enough. This inequity is resulting from a lack of real person-to-person connections, inspirations, and encouragements. Underrepresented people hold unlimited potential in science.

“Studying science changed my life,” Padilla said. “I’ve never imagined someone like me could be a scientist. Because I learned a possibility, it changed everything for me. I feel like I’ve been successful because I realized what a privilege it is to study science.”

 

 

High Uintahs Taxidermy brings memories back to life

Story, photos and slideshow by WILLIAM PHIFER III

Take a behind-the-scenes look at the process of taxidermy.

 

In the center of Coalville, Utah, lies a small 700-square-foot building filled with hides, horns, antlers and taxidermy forms.

Front door - High Uintahs Tax

The main entrance to High Uintahs Taxidermy in Coalville, Utah. Ironically, a sign directs visitors to a side door because the entry is crowded with life-size mounts.

High Uintahs Taxidermy, owned by Dean Schulte, 49, is located at 31 S. Main St. Specializing in big game taxidermy, Dean strives to recreate a lifelike appearance of the animals that people bring to him.

“I hope that when [people] look into the eye of my work … they can see a spark of character and soul,” Dean said. “That is the most important thing that we really try to work for here, with myself, and with the guys that work for me. I never stopped reinforcing that.”

Dean believes focusing on the detail of an animal’s eyes is what makes them look alive. “We are known for our eye work here. Our eye detail is the foundation,” Dean said. This process entails setting the glass eye into clay and tucking the hide into the clay. This prevents the hide from pulling away from the eye socket when it fully cures.

By doing this, Dean hopes that his work will serve as a commemoration to his clientele and their hunts, especially those of family-related outings. “They are looking at a snapshot of a lifelong memory,” Dean said.

While some of his clients focus on the trophy quality of the animals, Dean said his emphasis on the eyes “is going to make that memory that much more lifelike for them. … It’s the difference of having a sharp image of something and a dry poor piece of photography.”

Dean, a self-taught taxidermist, founded the business in 1993 so he could make a living and support his family, while doing work that he enjoyed. “Most importantly,” Dean said, “I am happy at what I do.”

However, Dean said, “There’s a struggle between the artist and the businessman. I’m an artist first.” He never intended to create a business that would grow and become a huge operation and he has purposefully prevented it. While he has employed as many as eight people at one time, Dean presently employs four people.

Including himself, Dean prefers his current five-man operation. “This is the limit for me, otherwise I’m going to become a manager. I will not be involved on the floor as a taxidermist if I was to add more personnel,” he said.

By running this type of operation Dean is still able to be involved in the work that he is passionate about.

Dean’s passion for taxidermy began in Montana when he was 10 years old and he paid a $1.99 monthly subscription for pamphlets made by the Northwestern School of Taxidermy. However, he only dabbled in it until he was 16. He strayed from it as adult life began to take precedence.

Dean moved to Utah when he was 18 to work in the oil fields with the intention of only working for six to eight months. However, he said the money was good.

On one calm, cold November morning Dean said he and his team of three guys were having trouble with an individual oil drill they were working on. It was the third day they had been working on this particular piece of machinery. Each night the well would build up pressure caused by a mixture of natural gas, oil and water, and his team would follow safety procedures to bleed-off the pressure.

However, the company he worked for at the time did not have an oil and gas separator, which would burn off the natural gas and dump the excess oil and water slurry into a tank.

Dean recalled the events of that morning:

Getting ready for the day, as the well was bleeding down, well what happened is within 5 minutes, all the sudden that well just opened up and it unleashed a huge tremendous amount of [gas]. I don’t know how many cubic feet of gas it dumped into the valley. By the time we could get over to the well and shut the valve, it had already saturated this valley. It was literally like fog, like a fog of natural gas. We were shutting down all the equipment we had started up, basically all your ignition sources, trying to shut them down. Well on the edge of the location there was a trailer, probably like a 6 by 10, that we had lockers in there and we changed our clothes and we had a heater in there. Well that trailer was the last thing we got to and that heater, the piolet lite, it ignited the location. I was probably 10 feet from the door.”

Dean said it felt “like standing by a jet intake on an airplane, just a roar. And obviously all the oxygen is being consumed in the air. Everything just went red.”

Dean suffered third-degree burns on 40 percent of his body and spent six weeks in the hospital. After that he was in and out of the hospital for about five years, while he had multiple operations done on his hands and face. (The other members of his team also suffered burns. One person sustained third-degree burns over 55 percent of his body. Another suffered third-degree burns over 25 percent of his body. The fourth man was in the trailer at the time of the flare and didn’t get burned until he tried to help the other men.)

“It was a swift kick in my ass. I went back to school,” Dean said. “I wasn’t going to let it beat me.”

Doctors told him he would probably never work with his hands again, but Dean set out to prove them wrong. He went back to school to be a machinist and in between surgeries, earned a degree in robotics and automated systems. After that he also spent three years studying electrical engineering. Then at the age of 25, a friend reintroduced him to taxidermy.

“I just kind of realized, second time around, maybe this was my forte, this is what I really want to do. This is what I’m supposed to be doing [and] I just very aggressively pursued it,” Dean said.

In 1993, he started doing taxidermy work out of his garage. Later he moved to a 30-foot by 30-foot building but quickly realized he need more space. He moved his shop into its current location.

Over the years, Dean has raised nine children, all of whom have worked in the shop with him at some point in time.

Stephen Schulte

Stephen Schulte stands in front of an award-winning lesser kudu.

His oldest son, Stephen Dean Schulte, 27, is the only one who still works at the shop. He began working for his dad nine years ago, when he was in high school. Father and son both hope he will, one day, take over the family-owned business.

Stephen considers himself lucky to have been able to work for his dad and gain experience in the business.

“There’s guys that go to school for this and they pay like $10, $15,000,” Stephen said. “The best way to do this is, I guess like a tattoo artist, is to apprentice under somebody. I’ve been able to apprentice under him [and] I like doing this. That’s my ultimate goal is to run the business.”

Stephen feels confident about his ability to run the shop with his the help of his wife, who does a lot of the office work. “I pretty much run all the North American sector. I do all the managing [of] the North American stuff, which we do about 200 North American pieces a year.”

While North American animals such as deer, elk, moose, mountain goat, Dall sheep, bear and many others are his area of responsibility, Stephen also works on animals not native to the United States. He said he has done taxidermy on a lot of African animals including antelope species such as springbuck, bushbuck, impala, nyala, and kudu. Stephen is excited to be planning his first trip to Africa in May 2016, and he can’t wait to see all the animals running around.

“Kudu are my favorite. I think they’re pretty,” Stephen said. “They look awesome and I’m excited to go get mine, because I’m going to do something cool with it.” About the size of an elk, greater kudu are an antelope species with large curled horns and hides that are a mixture of grey, brown, black and white.

Stephen's award winning lesser kudu

Stephen Schulte did the taxidermy work on this lesser kudu that he entered in the Best of the West Taxidermy Championship. He won second place in the Masters Division with this free-standing piece.

“I’ve mounted a ton of them, but every time I do one I get my reference pictures out and obviously the internet has everything you need,” Stephen said. “You can pull up a million different pictures.”

Like the kudu, there are a lot of animals that Stephen hasn’t had the opportunity to see in real life. He said pictures are the key to good anatomically correct taxidermy.

“That’s the important thing,” Stephen said. “Reference pictures, reference pictures and more reference pictures. My dad will tell you the same thing.”

Stephen added, “A lot of taxidermists don’t [use reference pictures]. What happens is they do so many [animals], but then they start to stylize them to the way they think looks good.” In the long run they end up changing the anatomy of the animal.

This use of reference pictures is something that Dean teaches to all his employees, not just his son.

Kelli Dixon, who is also a hair dresser, does most of the finish work on animals at High Uintahs Taxidermy.

“They’ve taught me a lot here. I mean, I’ve never ran an airbrush before,” Dixon said, “and they taught me to sew.” Dean also taught Dixon the importance of using reference pictures. “Dean has some catalogs down there,” Dixon said. “[He has] books with pictures and stuff and then Google, amazing Google!”

Dixon, who still works out of her home as a stylist, said her new job has given her a different perspective on the art of taxidermy. “I had no idea what taxidermy took. I had no clue that it was all this art,” she said.

She really likes working as a taxidermist, perhaps more than being a stylist, and enjoys the outcome of her job. “You get the animal and you get to fix it up and make them all pretty,” Dixon said.

Dixon plans on being at High Uintahs Taxidermy for a long time because she finds her work very fulfilling. “I like when you tell people what you do, and they look at you like you’re an artist,” she said.

Having found a love for taxidermy, Dixon now appreciates taxidermy a lot more. She said, “Now I look at everything and see. I look at live animals and [I] notice every detail … It’s funny the detail that you start noticing after doing this kind of work.”

It is exactly that kind attention to detail that Dean and his son, Stephen, share. Their craftsmanship is what attracts people to High Uintahs Taxidermy. They want Dean and his team to create a piece of artwork out of the hide, horns and antlers — preserving their experience and bringing the memories back to life.

The life and success of Kirsten Morrise

Story and slideshow by NATALIE CHRISTENSEN

Meet Kirsten Morrise, her friends and family through photos.
Pierre Robin Syndrome is not a very well-known condition that is found in between one in 8,000 to one in 30,000 children born.

Pierre Robin Syndrome is a condition that comes in three stages, namely a cleft pallet, micrognathia (meaning a smaller jaw) and glossoptosis, an obstruction by the tongue from breathing.

Kirsten Morrise, a resident of Salt Lake City in the Sugar House area, has been dealing with Pierre Robin syndrome from the day she was born.

With her cheery personality and positive attitude, you wouldn’t believe the struggles this 20-year-old has gone through. She has been in and out of hospitals her whole life and  has undergone 40 surgeries. She has struggled with depression, been bullied through school and has overcome some learning struggles.

At a very young age she had a tracheotomy placed on her throat. Not only was this a burden for young Kirsten, but also for her mother Lisa who was taking care of two other children with medical needs.

“Kirsten was very sick and we were basically running an ICU and Timothy (her brother) was bouncing off the walls, and Michael (her brother) needed breathing treatments,” her mother Lisa said. “She was in the hospital 16 times her first year.”

Lisa said it was by the grace of God that she made it through that first year. Even with her two older boys needing help, having a child with a tracheotomy meant she needed to be at Kirsten’s bedside at all times.

When Kirsten had her tracheotomy removed at the age of 1, Lisa was able to return to work while neighbors watched Kirsten. Soon after however, problems started rising again.

“There were days when she couldn’t walk,” Lisa said. “And it was very strange … and things got a lot worse.”

Because of the lack of oxygen to her brain, Kirsten was having seizures which were getting worse and worse. Even with treatment, her seizures weren’t getting any better.

“‘Kirsten is sick get over it,’ was basically the attitude of a lot of professionals had that I talked to,” Lisa said. “But she kept getting sicker and sicker, and it got to the point where she couldn’t sit down on a couch without falling off because she was so out of it.”

As many times as Lisa tried to take Kirsten back to the hospital, they weren’t getting any help.

“And it’s like you’re running into a brick wall,” Lisa said. “It’s the scariest thing in the world to have your child be sick and have people not pay attention to you.”

Finally Kirsten was able to get the treatment but needed more surgeries.

She missed a lot of school because of the surgeries, and her social life wasn’t going very well either. A lot of Kirsten’s friends didn’t know how to treat her because of her surgeries. They saw her as being delicate rather than a normal kid.

“A lot of people don’t know what to say to me, because I’ve been through so much,” Kirsten said. “But I say they’re human. Do I really want them to be fully aware of what I’m experiencing?”

When Kirsten turned 6, she started skiing in Park City with The National Ability Center, a program that helps young kids recognize their strengths and helps build their self-esteem. The National Ability Center allowed Kirsten to participate in downhill skiing, and she had her own instructors to help her.

“My mom got me into skiing to help my upper trunk strength,” Kirsten said. “But as I got older and got better at it, it became not a pursuit (of) something to prove — I’m not delicate — but another activity I could add to my collection of talents I had.”

Kirsten went on in 2009 to win the gold medal in downhill skiing in the Special Olympics in advanced skiing.

Kirsten enjoyed skiing much more than physical therapy, it was more enjoyable and fun, and she could be outdoors. A lot of children with disabilities prefer to have their physical therapy this way, and Kirsten always looks back on the skiing experience with a lot of pride.

In 2005 Kirsten had screws put in her jaw called jaw distractors. The screws were visible on the outside of Kirsten’s face. When the screws were turned it forced her jaw forward so the jaw bone behind it could grow.

When asked if it hurt, she explained, “Yeah, you try getting the bone in your face being gradually moved forward.”

But, she added, “knowing what the end result is supposed to be makes it easier to endure.”

When she was 12, she attended LDS Brighton Girls camp. She enjoyed that summer so much she went back a second time and then finally went back as a helper in the kitchen in 2009 and then worked as the Craft Shack in 2010.

Kirsten loved it so much because the people there didn’t treat her like she was a disabled person. “They treated me like I was a human being,” she said. “There I had a blank slate, no one knew about my past … they let me do everything that everybody else did.”

Even having to wear an oxygen tank on her back as she went hiking her first year, she had fun with the girls telling them she was a cyborg.

If you ask anyone who worked with Kirsten at Brighton Camp a huge grin will come across their face.

Michelle Theurer was one of Kirsten’s good friends who worked at Brighton Camp with her. “It was great she always has something to say,” Theurer said. “So there’s never a quiet moment with her and she’s a really hard worker. Even with her limitations she’ll do whatever she can do.”

Theurer said Kirsten was always positive and was involved. She made things so much more fun because she saw them in a completely different way. “We would have time where we’d just hang out and it would be so fun to tease because she just dishes it right back at you, and she’s really ticklish.”

When Kirsten entered high school at Highland High, she was bullied by students taking her scooter and teasing her, calling her retarded and stupid.

“I have cerebral palsy and I have mood disorders, and I have hypotonia which means low muscle tone,” Kirsten said. “Those things have kind of caused with the bullying because of my posture and people look at me funny and also not being very athletic influenced the bullying.”

While attending high school, Kirsten was also going to college because of how much her surgeries held her back.

Kirsten attended Utah State University, because neither Brigham Young University nor the University of Utah sounded appealing.

“I made a plan to get to college,” Kirsten said. “And even though I got to college late, I had a plan I would get all of my high school work done by a certain time, and I would be able to function well enough to go to college.”

She picked social work as a major because she wanted to help others. “I feel like I have a capacity of empathy and I feel like I can give so much,” Kristen said.

Theurer also attended Utah State with Kirsten.

“Even though she may have challenges,” Theurer said. “She is always quick to realize that others have challenges too. She doesn’t seek for pity, but she does seek to serve others.”

Kirsten is looking toward the surgery that will fix it all. The procedure is called an End to End Anastomosis. Doctors will take out the part of the trachea that is scarred and then sew the ends of her trachea together. She went in early 2013 to Cincinnati to have the surgery done, but her throat wasn’t ready for it. So, on Dec. 10, 2013, she had surgery to advance her upper and lower jaws and tongue.

“Even though I have all these issues, I have a plan for how I’m going to do things and make sure I can do them,” Kirsten said. “I can take care of myself, I can do school, I can go on hikes, just not on big ones, and I’m a gold medalist in downhill skiing. Anything I put my mind to most of the time, I can do.”

Using genetics to debunk racism

Story and photos by ALYSHA NEMESCHY

Humans have been dealing with racism for hundreds of years, specifically those who are considered black-skinned by society. Africans have been faced with hardships, trials, slavery and even rejection of being human throughout history.

However, recent studies from geneticists may have the key to ending racism. Geneticists have proven that DNA studies show that all modern-day humans originated in Africa.

According to World•ology, as humans migrated north, “the less melanin they needed in order to gain protection from the risk of skin cancer. …Therefore, over several the course of several thousand years, somewhat lower levels of melanin were produced in the skin/hair of Asiatic humans, giving them a light brown pigmentation. The lightening effect was even more dramatic for humans in sun-poor Europe.”

Thus, prior to migration from Africa that took place roughly 60,000 years ago, the entire human race was black. Differences in skin color have only resulted due to sunlight exposure of ancient ancestors over the course of thousands of years. That completely negates every argument that humans have given for why racism is justified.

Demographic results of Eli Martinez, showing that his DNA comes from many different regions of the world, including Africa.

Demographic results of Eli Martinez, showing that his DNA comes from many different regions of the world, including Africa.

One Salt Lake resident, Eli Martinez, was fascinated by this information and chose to put it to the test by having his own DNA tested.

Martinez was born in Mexico and later moved to Utah. He considered himself 100 percent Mexican growing up and he, like other minorities, faced many difficulties with racism throughout his childhood and into his adult life.

Martinez was passionate about education and learning. He later went on to receive a bachelor of science degree in Spanish. However, while obtaining this degree he was exposed to many different issues regarding his own race that led him to be an extreme advocate for ending racism.

Melissa Sanford, a friend of Martinez, said, “Although a large chunk of society believes that racism is a thing of the past, many people are still faced with segregation and I have seen it firsthand growing up and going to school with Eli.”

After learning about the research being done to prove that all humans are of the same race, and that all people contain the same DNA lineage from an African woman from over 100,000 years ago, he thought that racism could soon be something of the past.

Martinez’ wife, Allison Evans, was interested in her husband’s passion with the African lineage and purchased a DNA test for his birthday. “He was constantly rebutting racist remarks online, at work and with his friends saying that we are all black and our racist ways are and always have been unjustified because, race is only something we as humans have created,” Evans said.

The DNA test results soon returned and his belief of being a full-blooded Mexican was halted. His DNA results showed that he was 40 percent East Asian and Native American. Nearly 30 percent of his background was European and, as expected, he also carried Sub-Saharan African genes as well. Five percent of his DNA showed African descent. He was amazed.

DNA results show those tested what percentage of their lineage comes from where.

DNA results show those tested what percentage of their lineage comes from where.

Martinez is one of many who are working toward ending racism by proving that we are all of the same human race. And ironically enough, we all come from the same race that has faced some of the most difficult hardships and brutalities because of racism.

With evidence being more available to the public, Martinez along with many others hope that racial differences will finally be a thing of the past, and acceptance toward one human race will be settled, officially making us a colorblind world.

Paleoanthropologist Richard Leaky said in a USA Today story, “ If you get to the stage where you can persuade people on the evidence, that it’s solid, that we are all African, that color is superficial, that stages of development of culture are all interactive, then I think we have a chance of a world that will respond better to global challenges.”

Thelina Smith, Miss Black Utah USA, strives for science education

Story and photo by LORIEN HARKER

On the Miss Black USA pageant website there is a statement that reads, “It’s time to redefine what it means to be a courageous, compassionate [and] CONFIDENT black woman today. We’ve got obstacles to overcome and stereotypes to smash. Sound like your kind of revolution? Join the movement.”

Thelina Smith has got some smashing of her own to do.

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Smith competing for the title of Miss Pioneer Valley in August 2012.

Smith is the current reigning Miss Black Utah USA. She also is a junior at the University of Utah who is studying biomedical engineering with an emphasis in biomaterials and leadership studies.

Smith is extremely busy with duties of the crown and sash, such as being an advocate for heart health while promoting her own platform. However, she makes sure to be involved with her studies. Smith started the first chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers at the U, reactivated the U’s Society of Women Engineers and is a biomedical engineering ambassador for the College of Engineering.

As a requirement for her title, Smith also promotes a platform, or an issue she feels needs to be addressed within the community. Smith says her platform, “Engineering the Leaders of Tomorrow, Because Tomorrow Matters Today,” is meant to “motivate minorities and underrepresented students to engage in STEM education.”

Smith says her platform has three goals. First, to reach out to the community, specifically women, through educating them on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education. Second is to “continue to charter diverse student organizations throughout Utah that serve to recruit and retain minority and underrepresented students in STEM fields.” And third, she wants to “establish a council” to mentor the youth she hopes to recruit into math and science education.

“I feel that this pageant allows me to take my efforts to the next level,” Smith says in an email interview. “I want to challenge young ladies to think about what it is to be beautiful and smart and to capture the attention of young men to let them know they can have a future within STEM education.”

Smith has also been working on partnering with the National Society of Black Engineers, The Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, The American Indian Science and Engineering Society, and the Society of Women Engineers, of which she has been an active participant. Smith wants to partner with these societies to form a council called STEM-Diversity Industry Advisory Council.  This council would include “community leaders and local STEM company representatives that will [oversee] the support of these student chapters,” Smith says.

Despite her full schedule, Smith is making time to run for Miss Black USA in Washington, D.C., in August 2013.

Although there have been women of color to win larger national and international pageants, Smith doesn’t feel women of color are being represented to their full potential within these programs.

 “I wouldn’t consider myself ‘marginalized’ in pageantry but rather ‘underrepresented.’ There have been women of color to capture the crown as Miss America, Miss USA, Miss Universe, [but] this is still relatively a small number in comparison to the number of years that these organizations have existed,” Smith says.

Lana Thompkins, the public relations spokeswoman for Miss Black USA, says in an email interview that the Miss Black USA is necessary because women of color do not feel beautiful with today’s standards of beauty.

 “Self-esteem is the core of a woman’s belief in herself. Miss Black USA sets our own standards of beauty,” Thompkins says.

African-American women have been faced with many stereotypes, Thompkins says, and the purpose of the Miss Black USA pageant is to disprove these stereotypes.

“While 80% of Miss Black USA contestants are graduates or professionals and represent a new generation, we are often negatively typecast, demeaned, and portrayed in the media and in the workplace as ‘broken,’ ‘unattractive,’ ‘alone,’ ‘hard to work with,”’ and even ‘violent,’” Thompkins says.

Raychellene Talbot, the wardrobe coordinator for Miss Utah under the Miss America Organization, feels that Miss Utah has a “melting pot of pageant girls” despite the fact that there has yet to be an African-American Miss Utah.

“We have so many different contestants at the local and state level. I know Miss Utah Outstanding Teen 2011 had 6 different nationalities,” Talbot says.

The Miss Black USA pageant was founded in 1986 by Karen Arrington. The scholarship program boasts a two-year tuition scholarship to Miles College, a historically black college in Fairfield, Ala.  The scholarship also awards a fully furnished apartment close to campus. If contestants such as Smith win and choose not to attend Miles College, they do not receive the housing benefits.

Women who have competed for the title of Miss Black USA have gone on to win titles within the Miss USA organization. Chenoa Greene, Miss Black New Jersey 2007, went on to become Miss New Jersey USA in 2008.

Thelina Smith says, “The Miss Black USA pageant is a showcase of women who otherwise may have been overlooked.”

University of Utah students focus on diversity in innovation

Story and photo by TREVOR RAPP

On Jan. 8, 2013, the University of Utah was ranked as one of the “top institutions in the country for startup formation,” according to the latest survey by the Association of University Technology Managers released in December 2012.

“Startup formation is in our DNA,” said Bryan Ritchie, director of the U’s Technology Commercialization Office, in a news release.

The genetic complexion of business innovation has significant meaning for one U student. He is not just a business innovator, he is a black business innovator.

“Black-owned businesses are, especially where I’m from in Lake City, Fla., a rare commodity,” Enis Henderson said.

Ennis Henderson, UofU student.

Ennis Henderson, UofU student.

Henderson is part of a research innovation class that tasks students to research opportunities to improve local or national communities.

“I chose the problem that was near and dear to my heart, which was trying to improve the quantity of black-owned businesses in America,” Henderson said.

While contemplating his project, Henderson’s mind stretched back to Lake City, Fla., where he grew up. He described it as a “Mayberryesque” town where the white people lived on one side of the tracks and the black people on the other. There he gained his first working experience “doing the jobs no one else wanted to do” like picking the tobacco, corn, peanuts and melon grown in his community.

When he was 22, he got his first lesson in owning his own business.

That lesson came from a casual conversation with a white insurance agent. After “taking a liking” to each other, Henderson said the agent explained that he took his two sons out to cut wood and then bring it into town to sell it. Each time they made a sale they would subtract their revenue from their operating costs to calculate their gross and net profits.

“That was the first time I had heard the words ‘operating expenses’ and ‘gross profit’ in the same sentence,” said Henderson, “and I said ‘Wow, how old are your boys?’ and he said ‘7 and 9.’”

“You aren’t born with an innate sense of how to do business,” Henderson said. “Someone has to teach you, or you have to go out and learn it. And if those people who don’t own businesses never had anyone in their family to take them by the arm to say ‘let me show you how to do this’ … and if they’ve never seen it or heard it — odds are they won’t do it.”

And recent statistics are showing that when compared to other minorities, African-Americans are not doing it.

According to “Black (African-American) History Month: February 2013,” published by the U.S. Census Bureau News, the black population, whether of mixed or non-mixed backgrounds, is 43.9 million. This represents an increase of 1.6 percent from the April 1, 2010, census.

Nevertheless, in a separate 2007 Survey of Business Owners conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau found that only 1.9 million businesses out of 30 million were black-owned.

For Salt Lake City, black-owned businesses are only 2.7 percent of the almost 24,000 total businesses, according to the U.S. Census QuickFacts.

These numbers haven’t been lost on Henderson. As part of his project he researched statistics published by the U.S. Census Bureau, the Bureau of Economic Analysis, and IBISWorld.com, a database of industry-based research.

As he spoke, Henderson pointed to various charts from those sources as he explained that while blacks outnumber the most profitable minority, Asians, by about 3-to-1 by population, they own about the same number of businesses. Even more surprisingly, Asians were making about three times as much profit.

“It’s completely inverted,” Henderson said.

Henderson isn’t the only person who has noticed a lack of diversity in local businesses.

Most African-Americans who come from the South or the Midwest don’t want to come to Utah because of the stigma that Utah has of not being a diverse community, said James Jackson III, founder and executive director of ACCEL (African-Americans Advancing in Commerce, Community, Education, and Leadership), a nonprofit organization providing resources to African-American small businesses in Utah.

Neither Henderson nor Jackson point to current racial prejudices as the current cause of the problem. However, the “genesis” of the problem is deeply embedded in the history of slavery in the United States, Henderson said.

For Jackson, the most pressing need is increasing the level of education for all Utahns. Jackson was appointed by the governor to the Utah Multicultural Commission, an advisory group for issues relevant to local minority communities. “The main song that was sung through [the commission’s various] committees, whether it be health, education, corrections, economic development, all of them leaned toward education in some way,” Jackson said.

Those numbers are reflected in the April 1, 2010, US census as well, with only 18.4 percent of blacks reporting having earned a bachelor’s degree, and only 1.6 million blacks reporting having earned an advanced degree.

And the effects are real. The annual median income for black households declined by 2.7 percent from 2010, making it almost $10,000 less than the national median income for families, according to “Black (African-American) History Month: February 2013.” The U.S. Census Bureau News also reported a 27.6 percent poverty rate among blacks, almost double the national average.

For Henderson the answer is availability of resources. “What I recognize is that it’s a lack of information. Now there’s a ton of information out there on the internet there are types of agencies people can go to to get information. But they don’t know what to ask for if they did go to an agency,” Henderson said. “They’ve never been informed. The resources are there but they don’t know what it is, they don’t know what it’s for.”

Getting Dirty: Why children need to be outdoors

Story and photos by KATIE HARRINGTON

A semi-weathered copy of Thoreau’s “Walden is perched on the top shelf of an IKEA bookcase in Nick Harrison’s bedroom, next to a collection of guidebooks, a stack of old climbing magazines and a French pocketknife — the handle made from the trunk of a cork tree. Harrison’s name is engraved on the blade.

A large, unfinished painting of southern Utah’s Castleton Tower is nestled into the corner of the room, near a box of paintbrushes and a piece of notebook paper with the title “2012 TO DO LIST” written across the top:

Keep a clear mind. Visit a different continent. Finish Castleton painting. Push my physical limits. Change someone’s life for the better.

Harrison, a 20-year-old student and a “liftie” at Alta Ski Area, grew up with the Wasatch Mountains in his backyard, inspired by their mystifying allure.

“I am drawn to the outdoors,” Harrison said. “These mountains are my constant source of motivation. I draw them. I climb them. But I didn’t fully appreciate what they had to offer until I got older. Survival, self-reliance, serenity: these are all things you can only truly learn by getting outside.”

But kids today don’t seem to see the outdoors the same way Harrison does.

Crowson (left) and Harrison pack their car for a climbing trip in April.

According to a national survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation, kids ages eight to 18 spend an average of 7.3 hours engaging in entertainment media in a typical day. This amounts to more than 53 hours per week.

Be Out There — a National Wildlife Federation campaign that hopes to reconnect children to the natural world — notes that a study in 2005 revealed that children are spending half as much time outdoors than they did 20 years ago.

Neil Crowson — Harrison’s roommate and adventurer counterpart — grew up down the street from Harrison, spending his childhood skiing in the Wasatch Mountains and rock climbing with his father.

“It’s really important for a kid to go out and get himself in the dirt, jump off rocks and cut his knees up, and get on the mountain at a young age,” Crowson said. “If kids do that, then they come to develop ambitions and learn to respect the mountains.”

Both Harrison and Crowson say they have — in one way or another — been defined by their outdoor surroundings, that growing up with the mountains as their playground has given them a sense of place and purpose in a seemingly uncertain world.

The walls of their living room are covered from ceiling to floor with personal photographs that share a common theme: being outside.

The gear room in the basement of their bungalow-style house is crammed with racks of ropes, climbing gear, bikes, skis, backpacks, tents and camp stoves—and a looming odor that can only be created from years of adventuring outdoors.

“I can’t ever see myself leaving the Wasatch completely,” Crowson said. “The people that founded these canyons, both in skiing and in climbing, have also founded tons of areas around the west coast. But you always see them coming back to Salt Lake and that’s because we hold the mountains with such high regard. They define us.”

But that defining power of the mountains — of the outdoors in general — is becoming increasingly sparse among today’s youth, as an increasingly technology-fueled lifestyle drives kids indoors — and keeps them there.

“It’s hard to learn a key set of morals as a kid when the world is changing so rapidly and technology is always advancing,” Crowson said. “It’s always hard to know how to become a man. But the beautiful thing about the outdoors is that it’s a constant. It’s timeless. So the same set of values that existed 100 years ago still exists today.”

Outdoor Nation — a community-based program created by young people, for young people — was founded in 2010 to address the growing disconnect between today’s youth and the outdoors.

“America is in a current state of crisis where its youth are choosing technology over nature, Xboxes (check the proper spelling on X box) over healthy lifestyles,” Outdoor Nation said on its website. “Green spaces in urban areas are either unsafe or non-existent. Families, schools, and media have failed to engage and excite youth about the benefits of the outdoors.”

Judy Brady, a licensed clinical social worker in Salt Lake City, said being outdoors is especially important for a child’s development because it fosters self-esteem.

“One of the ways in which we gain self-esteem is through task mastery,” Brady said. “When a child is outside, he or she gains personal self worth by problem solving, by completing new and challenging tasks.”

A series of studies published in a 2009 edition of Journal of Environmental Psychology found that being outside in nature makes people feel more alive.

“In vital states people demonstrate better coping and report greater health and wellness,” the study reported. “Being outdoors has been proposed to be good for health and well-being because when outdoors, people tend to both interact more with others and get more exercise.”

The sunlight also triggers serotonin and dopamine production, neurotransmitters that help maintain positive feelings in the brain, Brady said. Cases of seasonal depression are seen more often in the winter months because there is less sunlight and people spend less time outdoors.

“When we are surrounded by all man-made objects and man-made ideas — products of our own society — we become dysfunctional,” Crowson said. “We forget how to respond. We are alienated from each other because we are constantly around each other. When you are in the outdoors and there’s nothing but organic sounds, it gives you a chance to really bond with other humans.”

Allison Librett — a lawyer and fitness instructor in Salt Lake City — said that exposing her children to the outdoors at a young age has helped them establish and maintain relationships.

Librett has a nine-year-old and an 11-year-old, both of whom spend their summers at outdoor camps with children of diverse abilities and backgrounds.

“Fresh air, exercise, mental stimulation — these are all such important things for child’s development,” Librett said. “My kids have had the opportunity growing up to interact with the world around them, to know what their imprint is and that they have a purpose.”

Librett said that when her children spend long periods indoors — especially when they are on the computer or playing video games — she notices that they are much more anxious, emotional and frustrated.

Those emotions disappear when her children are engaged in outdoor activities.

Harrison said he hopes that today’s youth will realize what adventuring outdoors has to offer.

“Kids should be excited to get out, to be outside, to breathe fresh air, to see a full moon and a bunch of stars, and hear the coyotes,” Harrison said. “That’s the sickest thing to me: just hearing and seeing and feeling the world as it is. ”

And if Harrison’s convictions about the benefits of nature aren’t heartfelt and persuasive enough, then perhaps a passage marked in his copy of “Walden” is:

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”

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