Bia Hamed has made it her mission to turn girls’ “I can’ts” into action, showing the girls, particularly girls of color, that they can do anything when it comes to going to college and nabbing great STEM careers.
By Tamara L. O’Shaughnessy • PHOTOS BY SYDNEY KISPERT-BOSTICK
The mom of four grown children, a first-generation college student who started school after becoming a mom, knows from experience how frightening taking chances can be. But she also knows the payoff.
“It wasn’t until I got on my own and had a family that I saw the value in having an education,” she says. “I couldn’t afford the better things in life, even something as simple as signing my kids up in a sports activity. Everything took money and to make money, you really need a good job.”
She started with one class at Henry Ford Community College and recently finished her doctorate in educational leadership. At Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti, though, she is best known by middle school and high school age southeast Michigan girls as a role model, mentor and champion of Digital Divas and the all-girls high school eSports Team.
Digital Divas started 12 years ago at EMU and Hamed says proudly that it is stronger than ever, with a conference (to be held this November), afterschool programs, video programs to empower girls, the eSports Team and now a TV show she hopes will spur STEM equity across Michigan. She’s always adding something new. A matching program, Digital Dudes, has launched for at-risk boys in resource-poor schools.
Her ultimate goal: To replicate the successful EMU program nationwide.
“It’s all about developing a culture of women in STEM, to normalize it, to make it part of the mainstream. We don’t do enough as a society to promote women in nontraditional career roles.
“There’s so much talent out there. We just need to put everybody on a career track, talented women who just need a little hand holding to get them through,” she says.
It’s also the reason she champions the eSports team, as she says girls are underrepresented in the multi-billion dollar industry. Through eSports, girls build communication and critical thinking skills, learn how to manipulate technology and receive the tools to ensure school success, she says.
She also spent some time recently chatting about parenting.
Juggling going to school and raising children:
“It wasn’t easy. I’m not going to lie,” she says. The first day of college, she admits she was so afraid. “I honestly believe that my kids saw me going to school, they just knew that was expected of them,” she says. “It’s not a bad thing for your kids to see you go to school and do homework. It’s OK for them to see you cry and be frustrated because these are natural things in life that they are going to have to deal with.”
Big life goal:
To work on the government level to improve education. “It’s not working. We need sweeping changes. … We have kept the model of education from 100 years ago.”
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Most hated household chore:
“I don’t dislike housework. I love doing laundry. You can start and finish that project. I love completing goals and that’s one of them.”
The one person you’d love to lunch with:
Dr. Jill Biden. She says they share the same degree, professional values and connection with community college.
How do you keep yourself motivated:
It’s finding a balance, time for family, for faith, for work, she says. “If you have a balance going on, you feel good about everything. Make time for everything that matters. These programs, getting kids on campus, really matter.”
Best parenting advice:
She offers three pearls of wisdom:
“Expose your kids to everything. Let them have experiences; this is what builds their future. And always stand behind your kids, always, always, always, and support them in whatever they want to study and what they want to do in life. Life has ups and downs and different paths, sometimes you have to go down one path to get to the other.”
Among her favorite free resources for parents are the local libraries and simply walking around college campuses, such as the beautiful EMU campus, to show kids they truly belong there.
“You have to remember you are the example for your kids. They’re watching you even when you think they’re not watching.”
“With kids, they’re figuring things out. Sometimes you have to let them learn to fail for them to learn a lesson. Have patience and let things play out; you’ll be there to pick up the pieces later.”
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