Michelle Reaves is the executive director of the Detroit Area Pre-College Engineering Program (DAPCEP), an organization focused on connecting youth in metropolitan Detroit to educational opportunities in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) and equipping students with the skills that will lead to high-demand careers and entrepreneurial opportunities.
Armed with a passion for creating experiences that expose students to limitless career possibilities, Reaves was inspired to focus on STEM education 15 years ago when, as an assistant director of pre-college and outreach programs for the Wayne State University College of Engineering, she learned of the lack of minorities in STEM fields.
Rolling out recently spoke with Reaves about the problem and to learn more about the steps her organization is taking to be a part of the solution.
What inspired you to focus on increasing the numbers of women and minorities in STEM?
My background is in business. I received my undergraduate and MBA in business. I started as a consultant with Wayne State University, helping to write grants for the college of engineering. I had to do all the research on why the funding was necessary and the impact the program would make. It was with that — when I started doing the research on the disparities with women in engineering and with underrepresented minorities in engineering — that it came to the forefront for me. Once I found out, I started looking back at my life, and I didn’t remember anyone talking to me about engineering or anything in the STEM fields. So from there, it became a passion.
Tell us about DAPCEP’s overall programming.
We do spring programs and fall programs Those are our Saturday classes. It’s pretty much our staple program, and we partner with various universities in the state of Michigan — University of Michigan, Lawrence Technological University, Wayne State University — to provide various classes in STEM from pre-K to 12th grade.
What is the Preparing African American Males Energy and Education program?
That programming is funded by the National Science Foundation and is a three-year grant that’s split into two different cohorts. We take 120 African American young men in 10th and 11th grades, and they work with us and our partners — Oakland University, Lawrence Tech, Michigan Tech, Michigan State, and Walker Miller Energy, which is owned by a Black woman — over an 18-month period. What we realized is that there are not enough Black men in energy. [Energy] is an expansive field, and there is a large need to fill that pipeline gap.
How many students do you serve annually?
We started with over 11,000 kids last year. We have always been 50 percent women, even though there are disparities between women and STEM. DAPACEP has always been 40 [percent to] 50 percent of girls. When we look back at our last alumni survey, 98 percent of them went on to a four-year institution, and 68 percent can speak to DAPCEP being the catalyst for change in their life, where it put them on the path to a STEM degree.