Program provides Somali children access to STEM education

The Minneapolis 4-H program could expand its enrollment if proposed city funding is approved Dec. 9.

Nuredin Dahir works on lighting LED lights at the Ka Joog mentorship program in the Riverside Mall on Nov. 5, 2016. Ka Joog, a non-profit aimed at helping Somali youth, started the mentorship program in March and collaborates with University mentors to teach kids about STEM fields.

Maddy Fox

Nuredin Dahir works on lighting LED lights at the Ka Joog mentorship program in the Riverside Mall on Nov. 5, 2016. Ka Joog, a non-profit aimed at helping Somali youth, started the mentorship program in March and collaborates with University mentors to teach kids about STEM fields.

Ryan Faircloth

An after-school program that educates and mentors children in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood could be in store for a big expansion.

The Minneapolis 4-H program — offered through Somali nonprofit organization, Ka Joog, and University of Minnesota Extension — provides an introduction to the STEM field for children in the Cedar-Riverside community. The club could get a significant boost if the Minneapolis City Council approves a proposed $50,000 in funding in the city’s 2017 budget at its Dec. 9 meeting.

Thirty children have enrolled in the program since it started in March, said Mohamed Farah, executive director of Ka Joog. If granted city funding, the program could see 50 students registered in 2017, he said.

“Every parent wants their kid to be the next engineer and the next doctor,” Farah said. “We’re able to expose these potential careers to these kids by them being involved in the 4-H world.”

Children in the program went on field trips to the Minnesota State Fair, Minneapolis City Hall and the University of Minnesota in its first year, Farah said.

The University field trip is an “immersion experience” where kids spend a week on campus living like college students, said Jennifer Skuza, University Extension assistant dean who works with Ka Joog at each of its clubs.

“We have college students who are working directly with the youth,” she said.

The 4-H club is one of two tracks in the after-school Takeoff program, which also has locations in St. Paul and Eden Prairie.

Skuza said she’d like to see the program take kids to visit companies like 3M and Medtronic in 2017, so they can see how a STEM education translates into different careers.

The program allows kids to be in control of their own education, she said. “That can be a huge paradigm shift for some young people and could be a real game changer in their futures.”

Reception from the Cedar-Riverside community has been “overwhelming,” Skuza said, and the program had to increase from two to four days per week due to heightened demand.

There are waitlists of up to 25 kids at each of the sites throughout the year, she said.

Farah said he wants to use the potential budget increase to include more students in the program, but also wants to be careful so the group doesn’t expand too fast.

“It’s not about the number It’s making sure that young people have a quality program, and we have the number of staff that can really enhance the quality of the program for kids,” he said.

Ward 6 City Council Member Abdi Warsame — who helped secure funding on last year’s budget to start the Minneapolis club — said it’s one of the first after-school programs designed specifically for the Cedar-Riverside community.

Investments like the 4-H program and the new Cedar-Riverside Opportunity Center will help the neighborhood by propelling children toward educational and career opportunities, he said.

“Building community infrastructure is one of the most important ways of alleviating poverty and reducing the risks that our youth are facing,” Warsame said.