MathCounts to Harlem

On September 21, at a reception at Minton’s hosted by Minton’s co-owner, Richard Parsons and General Colin Powell for The Colin Powell School for Civic and Global Leadership of The City College of New York, I met Karen Harper, Vice President of Building Engineering and Science Talent (BEST) .  Karen and I instantly connected when we realized our similar goals to serve under represented children by exposing them to STEM projects.  The following day Karen and I continued the discussion, and Karen shared a myriad of ideas and opportunities.

We started with the opportunity to expose underrepresented public school communities to STEM opportunities in late September and, 6 weeks later, on November 3rd, we had a room full of teachers participating in a MATHCOUNTS workshop. There were several factors that led to our successful and quick turnaround.


  • Karen Harper was the initiator and driver of this great initiative.  Her tenacity and vision created an incredible opportunities that could actually change the trajectory of young children who think they are poor in math and science.
  • Executive Directors of the College’s Continuing Professional Studies (Sharon Mackey-McGee) and The City College Partnership, Johanna Garcia, capitalized on their respective established relationships with public schools in the Greater Harlem community. We welcomed the opportunity to collaborate with the State Department of Defense and MathCounts, as we honored CCNY’s dedication to the surrounding community’s public schools. We were also guided by a commitment that is driven by the satisfaction of performing a public good. Our philosophy in working with the community is reflected in the Continuing Professional Studies’ tagline: Steeped in education, rooted in the community.
  • Many say location and reputation are everything. A flagship institution of public higher education, The City College of New York is centrally situated in the heart of Harlem making it accessible to all public schools in the surrounding communities. The College also boasts  a long and deep history with Harlem and Washington Heights.
  • We performed outreach with a top-down and bottom-up grassroots approach. We did more than talk to the Community School Superintendent of District 6, and principals of schools in the greater Harlem area. We also personally communicated with math coaches and teachers informing them of the opportunity to strengthen curriculum and encourage innovative teaching. Given our respective relationships and experience working with public schools in our community, we were cognizant of the struggling academic gains and the lack of representation of underprivileged students in STEM careers. This spurred us to work at record speed to keep our youth from missing out on the much needed opportunity.

We are compelled to do more and this is only the very beginning of bridging opportunities between STEM and disadvantaged communities. We can barely contain our excitement as we move to actively work with Karen for the next installment of STEM curriculum support and professional development options for our partners in public education.

Submitted by Johanna Garcia, Executive Director of The City College Partnership, and Sharon Mackey-Mcgee, Executive Director, Continuing and Professional Studies

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