HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) – Schools are taking the initiative to encourage students to learn more about science technology, engineering, and math particularly as it relates to increasing Black students in STEM programs.

Students at Columbia High School got to look at careers and opportunities in STEM.

“Anybody that has the will and the want and the skill to do those things can do it, just give them the opportunity.”

But those opportunities can be hard to come by. Schools say the skills children gain from STEM education extend beyond those needed to be successful in STEM fields, exposing children to a variety of interests in addition to valuable skill sets that allow them to be successful.

African-Americans only represented 9% of STEM workers in the U.S. in 2018, according to a Pew Research study. So to help inspire kids about the future they could have, Columbia High School held the North Alabama Clyde Foster STEM/Black History Program, giving them the opportunity to speak with experts in their field about how they got there.

The event was named in honor of Clyde Foster, a scientist and mathematician who worked for NASA and paved the way for many. From 1975 to 1986, he became the head of Equal Employment Opportunity at Marshall Space Flight Center. Foster is credited with setting up the programs that allowed hundreds of African-Americans to get training.

“He had a lot of slack about setting up those training programs on the HBCU campuses and because at the time the white universities were still segregated and the Black students weren’t necessarily allowed on some of the campuses,” explained Clyde Foster’s daughter, Edith Foster.

Angela Walker is the Spacecraft and Vehicle Systems Department Director at Marshall Space Flight Center. She says it’s her mission to make sure kids that look like her get the opportunities she didn’t, saying that representation in different career fields matters.

“Because of their success, that gave the marketplace a comfort and a confidence in the abilities of folk who weren’t like the norm. And so because he did, now I am. And I too carry that same burden, that same calling that I must, first of all, leave it better than I found it and secondly open the door as wide as I can so that others who look like me are able to come in and make a difference,” Walker told News 19.

Those kids say if given the opportunity when they’re in charge, they want to lead the way and bring about change.

“I want to see us correct all the mistakes that we’ve made. I want us to stop using so much CO2 and putting it in our atmosphere. I want us to start using more solar energy, stop using batteries that can harm our environment; gas, oil all those things,” student Jaden Lampley told News 19.