Yamilee Toussaint, founder and CEO of STEM From Dance is making STEM fun and accessible through the immersion of dance. From teaching algebra to creating an innovative way for young girls of color to be empowered, Yamilee is mastering how to provide STEM Education access by using dance.
Early Life And Influences
Yamilee was born Haitian-American and grew up in Long Island, New York just off the East Coast of the United States. Her father and brother are both mechanical engineers, which inspired her to also follow the path into the engineering field.
She attended Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and obtained a Bachelors in Science in Mechanical Engineering with a concentration in Biomedical Engineering. Afterward, she then attended Pace University for an MS in Teaching, Math Immersion. Teaching became a passion after she witnessed the difficulties women of color were facing with STEM at the college level. She knew then that she wanted to see what was taking place at the K-12 level.
Dance Background and Career
Yamilee started dancing at 4 or 5 years old. She would visit a local dance studio and take all the classes offered including ballet, tap, jazz, hip hop, modern, and African dance. Dancing gave her much confidence throughout her life and in turn translated into helping her in STEM studies at MIT.
Research shows that dancing improves cognitive capacity and spatial awareness, and supports how one thinks as an engineer and scientist, which was the perfect conformation she needed. Dancing’s impact on her own education inspired her to incorporate it into STEM education. It’s a culturally relevant way to reach students where they are. After graduating college, Yamilee taught Integrated Algebra to 9th-12th graders as a Teach for America Corps member in East New York, Brooklyn. Her experiences as a teacher in Brooklyn inspired her to create STEM From Dance as a way to alleviate the challenges her students were having.
“I taught high school math, and I found that one of the biggest challenges I faced was persuading my students to try, given that they had their preconceived notions about math. It was challenging to teach when they were nervous to try, and that helped me to see how confidence and mindset plays such a huge role in what we’re able to achieve.”
Yamilee currently works in the Development department at Teach For America as well, but not directly connected to her work in STEM From Dance. It does however inform the fundraising aspect of her work at STEM From Dance.
The Emergence of STEM From Dance
STEM From Dance gives girls of color access to a STEM Education by using dance to empower, educate, and encourage them as our next generation of engineers, scientists, and techies. Yamilee wanted to help others build self confidence while increasing the diversity in STEM. She reflected on her own life and what made her confident to create a way to integrate dance and STEM career and college preparation. STEM From Dance not only builds up the girls’ confidence and gives them skills they can use in the workforce but, they also expose them to different opportunities within STEM. Whether it’s field trips to different tech companies in NYC, Emoti-Con, visits from professional women in STEM or notice of other STEM related activities within the city. SFD also offers students who have completed the program an opportunity to intern with the org and contribute to the process.
What’s The Future Looking Like For STEM From Dance?
Toussaint is looking to impact more students with her organization’s approach, considering the benefits they’ve seen thus far. STEM From Dance would like to offer more in-school residencies as well as expand their summer program: Girls Rise Up. A two week summer program for girls to be able to deepen their knowledge of both STEM and dance while discovering the many ways they work together. The girls create their own dances and integrate technology into their choreography.
Learn more about STEM From Dance HERE: https://www.stemfromdance.org/