Calvin Mackie’s mission is to get more kids interested in STEM

Dr. Calvin Mackie hopes to inspire more kids to STEM. Photo provided

Calvin Mackie’s youngest son was in the third grade when he came home and suddenly announced that he wasn’t interested in science anymore.

That didn’t sit well with Mackie, a former mechanical engineering professor, or his wife, who’s a pharmacist. So he knew he had to do something. It wasn’t long before he’d converted his garage into a temporary lab and had begun the kind of hands-on experiments on the weekends that would better engage his son. 

His son, who is now a freshman at Howard University, was getting all As at one of Louisiana’s top magnet schools the following year when his friends began inquiring about how he’d come to know so much about science. 

“Right then and there, he realized he’d been exposed to somebody and things that his friends were not,” said Mackie, the founder of the nonprofit STEM NOLA. “He really believed that if his friends had [this same exposure], they would be just as bright as him.” 

It wasn’t long before a group of his son’s friends began showing up to Mackie’s garage on Saturdays as well. 

It was then that Mackie had an epiphany of sorts, realizing that he had something to offer the larger New Orleans community. 

“If [my son’s] friends were not being exposed, then think of the rest of the kids,” Mackie said. 

Putting up $100,000 of their own money, Mackie and his wife, Tracy, founded STEM NOLA in 2013 in the hopes of making a positive difference for the larger New Orleans community in which they lived and help meet the demands of the 21st century. 

A nonprofit organization with a mission to expose, inspire and engage the communities in STEM opportunities, STEM NOLA provides participants an interactive, hands-on learning experience that allows students and future innovators and entrepreneurs of all ages to gain added confidence in their abilities and chart a potential course for a career in a STEM field. 

Students enrolled in STEM NOLA learn about 3D printing, coding, technology, engineering, robotics, animation, app development, gaming and much more. 

His passion for STEM and inclusion is why Mackie will meet with students, faculty and staff at multiple events on Wednesday, Oct. 20, as part of the Investiture events for Mason President Gregory Washington

He said it was important to him to be at Mason to celebrate as Washington, his good friend of 30 years, realized a lifelong dream. The two men first met in Atlanta back in 1991, when Mackie was president of Georgia Tech’s Black Graduate Student Association and trying to recruit Washington to come there for his PhD program. 

They immediately hit it off thanks in large part to a shared love of STEM, and the two men have since worked together on a number of occasions with the aim of increasing STEM numbers among underserved communities. 

“His dream was to be a college president, impact lives and set the direction of an institution,” Mackie said. “It’s important for us to acknowledge and celebrate when goals are met and made.” 

Since 2014, STEM NOLA has served more than 80,000 students across 47 states and five different countries, most of whom have hailed from underserved or low-income communities. Nearly half of the participants are female, with more than 80% eligible for free or reduced-priced school lunches. 

“It’s making a lasting impression,” Mackie said. “Our commitment is to give all children that which my wife and I and others have given to their kids. We’ve established a level of execution and operation that I don’t want to see change because everybody deserves it.” 

Mackie has made the most of all the tools available to him to share his message, including his young brother, Anthony Mackie, the popular Marvel actor who recently became the first black Captain America. 

Calvin Mackie said he hopes to eventually create a credit-to-career pipeline that allows for ample access to STEM for all students, no matter their family’s socioeconomic status. 

“My ultimate goal is to have a million kids doing STEM on Saturday, every Saturday,” he said.