This fall, the Black Girls Dive Foundation will observe its first young woman, Skye Garrett, go off to college to pursue a career in STEM. Attending Coastal Carolina University, Garrett is the first of many young Black women the foundation plans to empower for successful marine careers.
The Black Girls Dive Foundation, founded in 2017 by mother-daughter duo Dr. Nevada Winrow and Taylor-Symon Winrow, is an eco-step, ocean-science-based STEM program that supports girls as young as nine, following them through when they go to college. There are few women in STEM and even fewer minority women, and this program is the first of its kind fighting to empower young Black women to find a home in the STEM workforce.
The group meets each Saturday, beginning in the classroom, then gearing up to scuba dive in the pool. The girls take classes in principles of scientific diving, core reef ecology, underwater photography, building and operating underwater vehicles, and more. Beyond the benefits of learning about diving and STEM, the girls also form powerful friendships and general life skills throughout their time in the program.
For this program to do all of its amazing work, a lot of equipment is required. After receiving a grant from The Pollination Project, Dr. Winrow and the rest of the team were able to buy some “pretty cool equipment” to further the girls’ learning.
“We’re preparing them for college and a career in STEM, so they have to be trained on the latest,” Dr. Winrow said on the necessity of using the best equipment. “They can’t be trained on outdated, archaic instruments.”
Beyond the countless benefits of learning about diving and STEM, the girls also form powerful friendships and general life skills throughout their time in the program.
“It’s not just been my experience connecting, it’s watching the girls connect,” Dr. Winrow said. “Everybody’s a stranger their first year, so it’s just amazing to look at the sisterly bonds they develop.”
The program has also operated on a hybrid-learning basis since the beginning, which allowed the girls to “not miss a beat” when COVID-19 hit, and also gave them an advantage in transitioning to hybrid learning in their school classes, an experience that challenged students all over the world. The program boasts a 95% retention rate, “losing” only one young woman during the peak of the pandemic who plans to return in the fall.
The foundation currently has chapters in New Jersey, Maryland, and a new chapter in Atlanta. Beyond the local work they do, the girls also have opportunities to complete travelling capstones, like the diving trip they just took to Egypt.
“You should have seen their faces in Egypt when diving the Red Sea,” Dr. Winrow said. “Every rare marine specimen that exists came out for them.”
When discussing the lack of Black women in marine careers and the STEM field, Dr. Winrow referenced two factors: “hair” and negative cultural narratives surrounding swimming. These inspiring young divers have already tackled the first factor, and are sure to be powerful influencers in changing the cultural narrative for future generations.