In 2015, Sprinavasa Brown and Kellianne Richardson launched a week-long program for Black and Brown K-12 students in Oregon with a mission to close the achievement gap these students experience in Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Math,
Environment and Design (STEAMED) education.
Seven years later, Experience Life Science Outdoors (ELSO) has grown from a one-week program into a multi-program community effort reaching from Oregon to Texas. The initial cohort of 12 students has expanded to more than 200 participants from all backgrounds.
Through nature-based education for all students, the racially inclusive program gives Black and Brown students the opportunity to learn directly from teachers who look like them and uniquely understand their life experiences. This approach is intended to fuel greater achievement today in their education and tomorrow in their careers.
A Black-Led Organization Focused on STEAM.
Black and Brown individuals make up only 9% of STEAMED workers, and Sprinavasa and Kellianne recognized the need to change this fact in two ways: Black and Brown children needed more access to science and related fields, and those fields needed more insights from these communities. As two women who achieved substantial success in STEAMED fields despite historic and systemic racism, they understood how to help Black and Brown children better prepare for advanced study and career success.
ELSO programming includes educational camps and programs, internships, community outreach efforts, and more. The programs are structured for Black and Brown students in multiple ways, the most notable of which is simply having Black and Brown leaders as teachers. ELSO also considers accessibility when planning the logistics of programs, and structures programs so that students learn about STEAMED topics from a multicultural approach that’s rooted in cultural history and environmental justice.
More than 700 youth and adults have been served through ELSO programs since its founding, and the programs had more than 258 participants in 2022. The organization now has 12 educators and 17 guest educators, and the majority are Black, Brown, or Indigenous themselves.
ELSO educators are also reaching others through their multiple community outreach programs. Their Harvest Party, Vital Voices, Joyful Engagement, and I-5 Rose Quarter Improvement Project initiatives have involved more than 400 friends, family, partners, and community leaders.
ELSO’s programs are structured to primarily serve Black and Brown students, as these students benefit from seeing and learning from successful professionals who look like them. However, the programming’s approach is valuable for students of any background to experience.
Consider Supporting ELSO.
If you’d like to get involved with the organization and participate in reducing the racial achievement gap in STEAMED, there are multiple ways to help ELSO’s mission:
- Donate: One-time as well as monthly donations are encouraged. Corporate Support options are also available for companies that want to make a difference.
- Volunteer: Community outreach programs require community support. Contact an ELSO member to see where and when you might be able to volunteer. Minority leaders who are in STEAMED areas are also appreciated.
- Share: All of ELSO’s support starts with awareness of the organization and its programs. Share news about their projects and offerings with family, friends, neighbors, community leaders and everyone else who might know Black/Brown students who would be interested in participating.