17 Mar LEAD ENGINEER AND NONPROFIT FOUNDER NAMED “EMERGING PHILANTHROPIST” OF THE YEAR
Editor’s Note: The Miami Foundation’s Emerging Philanthropist Award annually celebrates a 40-or-under donor who uses charitable giving to drive measurable results around a local cause, broadly improve the lives of Miamians and encourage others to give. We are pleased to name Amaka Amalu-Anderson as our 2020 honoree! Below are her remarks given at the PhilanthropyMiami Donor Next Door luncheon where she accepted the award.
Since I was young, working with aspiring children from socioeconomically distressed families has always been a passion of mine. My own family struggled as immigrants in the U.S. (eviction notices were normal fixtures on our dining room table). My parents knew how important a quality education was to our futures, so despite the hardships, they kept my siblings and me in good schools. I planned to become a child psychologist or teacher in a lower income neighborhood, because I believed impacting children at a young age was key to breaking the cycle of poverty. This is especially true here in our beautiful city of Miami, where we unfortunately have the second-highest rate of income inequality in the nation.
But in life, there are seminal moments, which can forever-change our trajectory, and one of those moments occurred during my senior year of high school. My physics teacher always gave me fun STEM projects to complete, and a few months later, I discovered a pamphlet in the back of their classroom titled “Women in Engineering.” At that moment, I decided to pursue a career in mechanical engineering.
Fast forward, and I have been with my company, Hardesty & Hanover, for 12 years, starting as an intern to now a senior professional engineer and managing associate. I have had great opportunities throughout my career, from working on more than three award-winning projects, to being the first black female mechanical engineer at the firm to publish and present her work at an industry-wide symposium, and holding a training seminar for our all-male junior mechanical engineers. Despite these strides, whenever I look around in meeting rooms or out in the field, I am typically one of the few women and/or only woman of color present.
Statistics show that women make up only 28% of professionals in the science and engineering field! Hispanic women only represent 1.8% of that and black women only represent 1.6%. Finally, only 30% of these women will remain in the STEM field after 20 years. This shows two issues: bringing women into the field and retaining them. Some of the best ways to improve these numbers are exposing girls to engaging STEM workshops, mentorship and providing them with female role models they can emulate.
As I progressed in my career, I decided to give back in a meaningful way to local youth. That’s how Tech Girl Power came about. Our goal is to introduce girls from underserved communities in Miami to dynamic STEM experiences and ensure they are included in this growing field, where 93% of the positions have wages above the national average and annual salaries start around $66,000.
It is said that when you educate a girl, you educate a community, and that girl is a magical multiplier for development and improvement. That’s why Tech Girl Power hosts workshops with girls from nonprofit organizations like Branches, where they help working families and their children break the cycle of poverty.
As the founder and president of Tech Girl Power, I help our girls create memories in the STEM field that will hopefully stay with them just as my physics class in high school stayed with me. Our engaging workshops have projects that employ basic engineering and science principles, but also include presentations on different topics like: the importance of getting an education, self-esteem building, and advice for reaching tough goals (like improving math and science testing scores). We recognize that this segment is critical, as these girls have more stumbling blocks to navigate in life than most students.
Over the past few years, I can think of countless anecdotes about how effective our work has been. We took a group of foster teen girls to see the film Hidden Figures — a historical movie highlighting the three largely-unknown African American women engineers that helped launch the first rocket at NASA. It was clear that they weren’t initially enthused about the movie selection. However, hours later, this same group of girls were in tears due to the moving impact of the film.
Once, during a balloon-powered car workshop at Branches, the girls were adamant about “not being boys,” and therefore, did not want to play with cars. Fast forward a few moments later, they were on the floor laughing, playing and racing the cars that they had just built. At the conclusion of our workshops, at least 80% of the girls want to be engineers. I truly believe that meeting other female engineers, who look like them, is a big step, as it allows them to envision themselves in that role in the future.
So, on behalf of the girls and future engineers of Tech Girl Power, we humbly thank The Miami Foundation and PhilanthropyMiami for this distinguished award and shining the light on our cause. Thank you to my advocate, Janeen Lofton, for nominating me for this award. To Hardesty & Hanover, the best engineering firm in the country, and our CEO, Sean Bluni, thank you for sponsoring our workshops. Also, to Branches and His House Children’s Home, thank you for allowing us to work with your girls. And finally, thank you to my family, friends, coworkers and other volunteers who have donated their time to help the girls of Tech Girl Power reach their ultimate potential.
Amaka Amalu-Anderson is the 2020 Emerging Philanthropist Award honoree.