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When Teach for America alum Yamillee Toussaint sees a room full of high school girls dancing after school, she doesn’t just see a well-practiced routine. She sees confidence rising and a chance to transfer that confidence to empowerment for young girls to reach for success in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.
The 2008 MIT mechanical engineering graduate has a plan to help young girls succeed in STEM fields through dance. Through her program, STEM from Dance (SFD), she’s using songs like Beyonce’s “Run the World” to show girls how they can do just that.
“I truly believe that the time is now,” she said. “Our country is at a critical moment in time where STEM jobs are on the rise. If we can take a significant slice of this STEM pie and get our students in the STEM pipeline, we can make transformational educational and economic progress in the minority community.”
A New York native, Toussaint has always been interested in science and math. Her father has been a mechanical engineer all her life and as a child she often had chances to follow him to work and learn what his job entailed. She was impressed by his excitement and enthusiasm for his work as well as the way he took on the challenges with the field with a pervasive curiosity.
“I chose mechanical engineering because I had a grasp on what engineering was,” she said. “I felt like I would thrive in, and I had the support and guidance of my role model – my father.”
After completing an internship in the field and graduating, Toussaint knew that although she enjoyed the engineering field, she wanted to take on a job that combined her desire to serve and connect with people. With her passion for service calling her, she decided to join Teach for America and taught high school algebra for two years at a school in Brooklyn.