Young Nerds of Color – Providing Role Models in STEM Through Theater

Aug 23, 2018

By Edie M. Stringfellow, Director of Diversity & Inclusion at MassBio

As part of MassBio’s Diversity & Inclusion Initiative, we support community engagement projects that are aligned with our mission and goals.  The best projects present creative ways to transform the life sciences industry’s culture through collective impact – something I’m passionate about.  Young Nerds of Color is a great example of how we can shift mindset and change the narrative about who belongs in the STEM fields through the lens of a theater production.

Young Nerds of Color (YNOC), A Play-in-Progress about Equity and Inclusion in Science! is being created by Central Square Theater (CST) with award-winning playwright Melinda Lopez

The project is part of Catalyst Collaborative@MIT, the nation's only ongoing partnership between a professional theater company (CST) and a world-class research institution (MIT).  The play is inspired by interviews with scientists and aspiring scientists who come from demographics underrepresented in STEM (people of color, women, ethnic minorities and low-income families). It will bring to the stage deeply-felt stories of people who love science for whom the journey has been arduous. The need for this project is clear: if science is guiding the shape of our future and our industry, then science needs to embrace the greatest possible diversity of creative people. Young Nerds of Color – a play celebrating multiple perspectives – will provide a safe space for challenging conversations about prejudice and privilege and help create conditions for change.

Dr. Nagesh Mahanthappa, CEO & President of Scholar Rock, is a longtime supporter of CST and very excited about Young Nerds of Color.  I caught up with Nagesh to ask about his passion for the YNOC project and what the impact will be.  He said:

“I believe strongly that the practice of science should be open to anyone with curiosity about the natural world, tenacity to explore, and the courage and willingness to do the hard work of translating scientific insights into meaningful therapies accessible to patients in need.  For our industry to succeed, we need to tap such talents everywhere.  Unfortunately, our pipeline of such individuals in not as full as it could be because such talent is not given opportunity to be cultivated across all communities; this, in part, is due to a lack of models. 

“Young Nerds of Color is an important project that gives voice, and notice, to the stories of individuals from communities traditionally underrepresented in science and engineering fields.  With theater as a vehicle, this program both provides models, and importantly, provides for all communities a window on the complexities of pursuing a career in STEM as a person of color, and this matters to building our vibrant industry as well as matters to civic discourse across a variety of matters for which scientific thinking is a critical guide.”

In order for YNOC to have the greatest impact, they need to hear directly from the role models. If you are a scientist and interested in being interviewed, please contact Debra Wise, Co-Director, Catalyst Collaborative@MIT, And, to engage the broadest possible audience, Debra is also seeking interviews with people outside formal science who also care about these issues: in science fiction, gaming, and comics. Interviews will take place at MassBio’s office, schedule TBD.

Photos courtesy of Alan Sinclair, Central Square Theater

See all MassBio News