Guyanese-born, Karen Abrams, the MBA executive director of STEMGuyana, said women make up close to 50 percent of the population, yet they are woefully underrepresented in STEM careers as the world has moved aggressively to technology oriented businesses and economies.
A graduate of Howard University and California State University at San Francisco, Abrams who has spent more than 10 years as a technology executive in corporate America working for Atlanta based Mindspring Networks, and later, Southern California based, Earthlink Networks, added that thousands of jobs will go unfilled, meaning, economies will not be able to benefit from the ideas, creativity and contributions of women who would not profit equitably from higher paying careers in STEM.
During a recent interview with Caribbean Life, Abrams who initially studied business and held a position in corporate America with a technology company, said she benefited from the aggressive growth of the firm and learned about technology and every aspect of the business during her 11-year career.
Abrams, a recipient of the prestigious Guyana 2018 Golden Arrow Of Achievement award for her work that raised the country’s technology profile by fielding teams at international robotics competitions in Washington and the United Arab Emirates, was intensely curious about how the mostly white people around her were able to prepare themselves for their careers in technology.
“I studied and implemented what I learned with my children, my Dekalb County community, then with the children of Guyana,” she said, “adding that more than 20,000 students have benefited from “our programs across Guyana.”
“Whether our NGSA grade 6 app, our summer camps, our club training programs, our robotics national teams, our STEM clubs, our (21) learning pods for vulnerable children or our hundreds of outreach programs, our impact is pretty significant.”
“We recently completed an online survey from a weighted sample of parents across Guyana and STEMGuyana’s name recognition was nearly 70 percent. People are aware of us, they know of our contributions and many of them would like their children to join our programs. I would say we’ve been pretty successful,” said Abrams.
“Sadly in Guyana, too many leaders in both the private and public sector do not have a good understanding of the benefits of our work. Others see us as competitors, which is strange because we introduced a brand new space into Guyana. We have made peace with the notion that there will always be detractors but we also have a few strong supporters in the public and private sectors,” she assured.
“We are also strongly supported by parents and probably most importantly the Guyana Diaspora. Our supporters always come through for the children of Guyana. We owe our existence to them.”
However, her concern is for the thousands of children from vulnerable families who have been under schooled for more than a year. “We fear many of these children will drop out and will ultimately join the ranks of low paid workers or the unemployed in Guyana.”
“We find this unacceptable, and this is one of the reasons why we’ve worked with partners (Department of Youth, Tullow, Diaspora, Exxon, vartment ofolunteers, Office of Prime Minister) to open 21 leaning pod sites across the country.”
“These sites are COVID compliant and we conduct four sessions each week to groups of six to 10 students. We are essentially meeting them where they are academically and providing them with support in Mathematics, English, technology and science.It’s a huge undertaking fraught with challenges but we persist,” said Abrams,
Her stellar work with the previous First Lady’s Office, the Diaspora, her own children and various public and private agencies in Guyana to introduce four robot building and programing camps at the Lusignan and Buxton Villages and at two locations in Georgetown, is pioneering.
In March of 2017, Abrams recruited and helped to prepare a novice Guyana national robotics team to a tenth place world ranking out of 160 countries at the July 2017 First Global Robotics Olympics held in Washington DC.
More than 200 children and 10 future club coaches were trained and certified in Lego Mindstorm robot building and programming under this program.
Those seeds of technology planted, gave birth to an expansion to more than 70 STEM clubs across all 10 regions in Guyana and more than 100 unanswered requests for club expansion into far flung communities; resulting in the exposure of thousands of Guyanese youth to robotics.
In 2019, the Guyana robotics national team won the prestigious Albert Einstein gold medal award from among 190 participating nations at the First Global Robotics Challenge in Dubai.
She also helped to pioneer the development of a Ministry of Education sponsored National Grade Six Assessment test preparation mobile app and a national pilot Robot Building and Scratch Programming League, to engage and educate Guyanese youth in robotics and coding.
All of the STEM initiatives organized by STEM Guyana, co-founded by Abrams and her college-aged children, will strengthen collaboration, conflict resolution, and communication among youth, while developing their creative, problem solving, technical and academic skills.
Abrams, a former Women’s National Basketball champion, who introduced a high school basketball league to Guyana in 2008, is the wife of former National Basketball player, Leon Christian, splits her time between Guyana and the U.S.
In addition to investing in a call center business in the 2000’s, Abrams, her four children, three of whom are attending Stanford University, Cornell University and New York University, play a major role in the family’s commitment to making ongoing contributions to the growth and development of Guyana.
To volunteer, or make a donation of new or used laptops to STEMGuyana, contact [email protected], or call 516-395-2066.