Students learn about robotics as part of Safe Alternative Foundation for Education’s SAFE Camp. Screenshot from video by SAFE.

The national nonprofit Society for Science this year awarded a total of $10,000 to three Baltimore-area grassroots organizations supporting science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) in their communities.

The local organizations include the Baltimore-based Safe Alternative Foundation for Education (SAFE), the Owings Mills-based Black Girls Dive Foundation, and the West Friendship-based Accessible Prosthetics Initiative.

Maya Ajmera, president and CEO of Society for Science, founded the STEM Action Grants program in 2016.

“I felt like the STEM Action Grants was to build an ecosystem of really innovative STEM organizations at the grassroots led by extraordinary people, especially people of color, and really going deep into people’s communities to support young people and others in STEM … to become engineers and scientists someday,” Ajmera said.

Society for Science received 187 grant applications this year and ultimately awarded a total of $176,000 nationwide to 41 STEM Action Grant recipients and four Presidential Award recipients.

Black Girls Dive Foundation and SAFE were two of the four Presidential Award recipients, and they will each receive $2,500. Meanwhile, Accessible Prosthetics Initiative will receive a $5,000 STEM Action Grant.

SAFE and Black Girls Dive Foundation both received $2,500 from Society for Science in 2021 as well. Baltimore Underground Science Space (BUGSS) was also recognized that year with a $5,000 award.

Anyone can apply for the Society for Science’s grant program.

Ajmera said they look for diversity in the applicant organizations’ leadership and constituency, as well as innovative STEM ideas.

One of those innovative organizations that caught Society for Science’s attention this year was Accessible Prosthetics, an organization that teaches kids about practical applications for 3D printing, including the creation of prosthetics for disabled individuals.

Although Society for Science doesn’t push previous years’ recipients to reapply, Ajmera said they prefer not to be one-time funders. Instead, they look at how to support organizations as they fine tune their programs year over year.

“We look at the pool of new ones and we look at the ones that have been part of our portfolio for awhile and say ‘What have they done? How have they succeeded? How have they failed? What did they learn from it? How can we continue to support them?’” Ajmera said.

Ajmera said Society for Science was proud to award funds again to Black Girls Dive Foundation and SAFE.

One of the highest causes of death for Black children is drowning in pools, Ajmera said.

In the case of Black Girls Dive Foundation, “the founder said, ‘I’m not only going to teach girls to swim, but I’m going to get them excited about marine biology and they can become scuba divers. What a brilliant way to fuse those two things together,” Ajmera said.

Ajmera said SAFE is “extraordinary” for the work they do integrating STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) into literacy, health and fitness education, especially for individuals from demographics that are underrepresented in those fields.

“They provide diverse educational programming of vocational exposure to underserved students…. They’re just an all-around great wraparound service organization that’s providing needed services, and STEM is an important core to their work,” she said.

The three Baltimore-area recipients, including the two that comprise half of this year’s Presidential Awardees, are a testament to the need to support grassroots STEM organizations in and around the city who are working alongside underserved communities, Ajmera said.

“The need is great,” she said. “Baltimore is a hub of real grassroots innovation, and foundations in Baltimore need to look at those organizations carefully and support them.”

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Marcus Dieterle

Marcus Dieterle is the managing editor of Baltimore Fishbowl. He returned to Baltimore in 2020 after working as the deputy editor of the Cecil Whig newspaper in Elkton, Md. He can be reached at marcus@baltimorefishbowl.com...