West Philly native inspires STEM education for early childhood learning in Fishtown

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- In the city's Fishtown section, some big things are happening surrounding STEM education for Philadelphia youth.

West Philly native Renee Harris is on a mission to utilize her STEM-educated background to inspire early childhood learning.

"When I initially went to school, my focus was to be a doctor. You know that tradition when you're into science or math," said Harris, who is the CEO of STEM Prep Academy and founder of Esteem Girls Inc. "I decided to go into STEM because I wanted to be initially someone for kids that I did not have myself."

Harris, who studied biology and sociology at Cheyney University, was inspired to open STEM Prep Academy in 2021 after expanding on her nonprofit Esteem Girls Inc.

Her motivation developed behind addressing the statistics and standardized test scores in STEM among female students in grades 3-8 from the School District of Philadelphia.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, in 2015, women earned fewer than 19% of bachelor degrees in engineering.

"I grew up in an urban area. I didn't have many resources, did not have the mentorship or exposure in the STEM area in general," said Harris. "When I started out of school I was working in the pharmacy industry."

Harris says while the career in pharmacy provided great pay, she felt unfulfilled.

"I wanted to be able to give back. I wanted more," she said. "I want to bridge that gap of STEM achievement earlier on."

A recent study shows while jobs in STEM have grown by 79%, minorities only represent 9% of its workforce.

Harris went on to gain her teaching certification to get STEM Prep Academy up and running as of January 2021.

The preschoolers have learned a lot of STEM hands-on activities. Also, Esteem Girls Inc., expanded with more educational workshops for young female students.

Harris also released a children's book with the STEM book series called "Look What I Can Be" to inspire young women to explore a journey in STEM education.

The entrepreneur and now author looks to further her knowledge directing this program as she was offered admission into the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education Entrepreneurship program for Summer 2021.

This program is the world's first master's degree program at Penn GSE in education entrepreneurship.

While her long-term goal is to have STEM Prep Academy grow to middle school, she plans for kindergarten enrollment in August to take up the second learning space next door.

But Renee says she has an even brighter vision for this program long-term.

"My long-term goal is to have a STEM-based school pre-K through 8th grade," she said. "I know that's a huge vision, but I definitely know I can do it."
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