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Philanthropy Thought Leadership

Grants enable STEM-focused organization to adapt through COVID and expand reach into the future

Participants in the STEM Journal Club for metro Atlanta High School students record a podcast. Photo courtesy of SEM Link.

Guest post by Tokiwa Smith, founder and executive director of Science, Engineering and Mathematics Link Inc.

Since 2005, I have been privileged to do work that I am accomplished in and passionate about as Founder and Executive Director of Science, Engineering and Mathematics Link Inc. (SEM Link). In the summer of 2020, the philanthropic community evaluated their funding strategies to increase their support of Black led organizations, which are historically underfunded. SEM Link was one of the organizations that benefited from this shift. The Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta awarded SEM Link three grants between November 2020 and May 2021: two from the Greater Atlanta COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund in partnership with United Way of Greater Atlanta and one general operating support grant. These grants allowed us to re-design our programming and receive funding from other foundations to support our work. 

In November 2020, we received our first COVID relief fund grant that supported our transition to virtual programming. As a result of the pandemic, our programs were on hiatus from March 2020 through July 2020. In August 2020, some of our Math and Science Career Academy programs resumed virtually, which allowed us to serve more youth, expose them to more STEM career paths and create content for our YouTube Channel. As a result of this funding, The Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation awarded us a capacity building grant in February 2021. We utilized those funds for infrastructure development, board reconstitution and training, overhauling the fundraising structure and implementing financial controls for greater sustainability.

In January 2021, we received a general operating support grant from the Community Foundation. The funds were utilized to pilot our STEM Journal Club and develop our Social Media STEM workshop in our Experimental Design Program. In February 2021, we launched our STEM Journal Club for Metro Atlanta High School students. This program aims to develop STEM literacy skills in high school students from ethnic and racial communities with historically low participation in high-level STEM research competitions to spark their interest in STEM Research. In September 2021, we were awarded a grant from Science Sandbox to build upon the success of the pilot and support a second cohort of the STEM journal club. In the summer of 2021, we developed the curriculum for the Social Media STEM workshop. We hosted the first workshop in October 2021 for our community partner 100 Black Men of Atlanta.

In May 2021, we received our final COVID relief grant that supported the launch our STEM Literacy Program. This program focuses on the development of literacy skills and introducing youth to STEM topics. This program provided elementary schools in the City of Atlanta and South Fulton with funding to purchase STEM books for their school libraries. It also provided culturally relevant STEM books and graphic novels for a community library in the City of Atlanta. 

As a result of what I was able to accomplish with this funding, I was selected for the 2021 Philanthropy 100 List curated by Unboxed Philanthropy Advisors. This funding supported work that was in SEM Link’s program and strategic plan for years. The organization was waiting on the investment from foundations to do the work. Once we received the investments, we were immediately able to begin the work. I look forward to continued support from foundations, especially those that can award us comparable or larger grant awards. It is my wish that the foundations build upon the work they started in 2020 and their funding strategies to continually fund organizations such as SEM Link to ensure our growth and sustainability. The leadership of Black-led organizations often represent the communities they serve and do impactful work in the community. 

About SEM Link

Science, Engineering and Mathematics Link Inc. (SEM Link) is a tax-exempt, national, nonprofit organization founded in 2005 by Tokiwa T. Smith in Atlanta, Georgia, on the premise that exposure to the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) community is critical to inspiring K-12 students to pursue STEM careers. SEM Link’s programs and events increase students’ awareness of STEM Careers and encourage their participation in STEM Research through digital learning and hands-on activities. For more information about SEM Link visit our website at www.semsuccess.org.


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