Maydm head Christina Outlay works to get underrepresented youth into STEM

Written by Angelica Euseary | Photography by Ruthie Hauge

Christina Outlay was born and raised on the west side of Chicago. She grew up in the North Lawndale neighborhood, an area that was central for community organizing during the civil rights and Black Power movements. 

Outlay has extensive experience in the STEM fields. She earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s degree in information technology from DePaul University in Chicago, and completed her doctorate degree in management information systems from the University of Illinois at Chicago. In 2011, she moved to Wisconsin to take a position as a professor of information technology at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. 

Outlay said she loves being a Black woman in STEM, and hopes to share that enthusiasm with kids in Maydm, a nonprofit group that works with girls and youth of color, grades 6-12, to boost their technology skills. She became its executive director in January. 

Outlay said her authentic leadership style and background give her the tools to connect with her students, especially those who look like her. She spoke with the Cap Times about her new role.   

What do you want people to know about Maydm?

A lot of the common perception out there is that Maydm only works with girls. We do not only work with girls, (but) we do have girls-only programs. Our goal is to bring more girls and youth of color to pursue careers in STEM, and our specific focus is technology and engineering. So mostly the T and E in STEM. 

The reason for that is, in those areas, if you get into career level, all women of any color are underrepresented. And then you have people of color who are also underrepresented, especially Black, Latino, Native American, (and) what’s specifically relevant for us in this area is Hmong and Southeast Asians. 

Our goal is to bring all of those underrepresented groups into STEM careers. That means teaching them about STEM, that means teaching them that careers in STEM are possible for them to achieve, the benefits in the career path and the income that you can earn in that area. And then putting them on the path toward those careers because we teach them skills, we have some fun things to do that are used to build awareness. 

What are your goals for Maydm? 

One of our goals is to be the go-to organization to help prepare underrepresented youth for STEM jobs. That means schools who need assistance with their curriculum, or extra in-school or out-of-school programming, or guidance on how to produce that, come to us. 

Organizations view us as a pipeline for diverse STEM talent. And other community organizations come and partner with us, so that we can combine our efforts to serve the diverse youth that we’re all looking to uplift.

I would also like to see a measurable impact in the number of local jobs that become available to our local youth, particularly in technology and engineering. And I would like those local youth to be ones that are typically underrepresented.

Since you started working at Maydm, what are some of the biggest lessons you’ve learned?

There’s no such thing as a part-time executive director. When you are leading an organization, you are in it full-time — mind, body and soul. So definitely make sure that it’s something that you are passionate about. Which fortunately, for me, this is. 

I am learning that there is a lot of socializing and networking, and that can be a full time job in and of itself. When you’re in a leadership role you need to be out and about meeting people, supporting other organizations, and going to events nonstop. I spend a lot more time talking and meeting with people than I anticipated I would be doing. As someone who is an introvert, it’s helpful for somebody who might be more introverted to know something like that. 

There are a lot of directors and leaders who are introverts, but you’re definitely going to have to be out on the social scene. Big time. It’s a lot about who you know. 

I’ll tell you another lesson learned, it’s a great one. I am learning that there are a lot of women in powerful positions in the Madison area with the ability to support and fund organizations that are looking to uplift the community. I’ve been surprised by how many women I’ve met who are holding the purse strings and able to really make a difference.

What is your favorite part about being a Black woman in STEM and being in this position? 

I like being a Black woman from the hood, who is still very urban and unapologetically able to interact with and switch hats. I can relate to a lot of different types of youth, but especially those youth that we mostly reach out to because they basically are me, and who I was, and I can talk from that experience. 

I listen to a lot of the same music. We had a test session with some of our girls from our Steminism program, (I was) rapping “Up” (by Cardi B) right along with them because I know every lyric, clean and not clean, just like they do. Nobody else was able to do that with them.  

I like being that representative and that role model. I’ve even had a student in an afterschool program who was excellent, but she was feeling discouraged, because she said her family told her Black girls don’t do that. And I was able to tell her, “Well, I’m a Black girl, right? You’ve been here with me for the last month. I’m doing it and I’m not by myself, either.” So I can relate in that way. 

I think sometimes people feel more comfortable around me. You see a similar face, or style of speaking, your dress or something like that. And there’s some familiarity and comfort that’s there.

Is there anything else you want to add?

I want to add information about how people can help, for sure. Join us as an internship sponsor. We’re always looking for more opportunities, but we definitely want them to be paid and real opportunities for hands-on experience. We’re a nonprofit so we always need access to more funding, especially unrestricted funding so we can expand our reach. 

We are currently looking for summer program instructors and hiring for a program manager and soon, an internship coordinator. So we are hiring here at Maydm as well. They can learn more by going to our website and contact me directly at any point: I’d love to talk more with anyone with any interest in changing the face of STEM.

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