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STEM, tech programs could get combined $3 million for underserved, underrepresented communities

A pair of one-time appropriations both from the Workforce Development Fund aim to assist the Minnesota STEM Project and Milestone Tech Program.

Sponsored by Rep. Samakab Hussein (DFL-St. Paul), HF5065 would appropriate $750,000 in fiscal year 2024 and the same amount in fiscal year 2025 to each group. Per the bill, “In each year, 30 percent of the money granted under this section must be awarded as subgrants to nonprofits located within the city of St. Paul.”

The House Workforce Development Finance and Policy Committee held the bill over Wednesday for possible inclusion in a committee finance bill.

Minneapolis-based Milestone Community Development develops programs fostering economic growth in underserved and economically distressed neighborhoods.

Additional funds would focus on developing new training programs and maintaining existing programs in technology fields, especially for people of color who are underrepresented in technology careers, Hussein said.

Nadira Mohamed, left, testifies before the House Workforce Development Finance and Policy Committee April 3 in support of HF5065 to provide funding for the Minnesota STEM Project and the Milestone Tech Program. Kawthar Mohamud also testified. (Photo by Michele Jokinen)

Its tech program serves 18- to 24-year-olds who are out of school, offering them classes to learn technology skills in partnership with North Central University.

“We see tremendous retention, we see amazing attendance for class, and that really comes because of the strength of the community bonds,” said Ling Becker, director of workforce solutions for Ramsey County, also a Milestone partner. “The employer community needs technologists … that reflect our community. And people of color particularly East Africans, are underrepresented in these roles.”

The Minnesota STEM Project, is a newer nonprofit that takes a lower-tech approach toward high-tech careers by making one-on-one connections between young people of color, especially Somalis and East Africans, and successful science professionals who look like them.

Nadira Mohamed, a pharmacist with the Department of Health, spoke on the power of being a visible STEM role model “in an everyday life situation.”

She said a favorite way for her to connect with young students is to take nature hikes where they can not only ask about her career, but also about any science topic that comes up along the way such as plant biology or photosynthesis.

Rep. Hodan Hassan (DFL-Mpls) said these programs are vital because they let people of color visualize themselves working in a technology field.

“You can’t be what you can’t see,” she said.

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