Netia's spunk and enthusiasm are instantly contagious. It's no surprise she is the Founder and Executive Director of a STEM education non-profit, Mbadika. On a mission to "develop the dreamers & doers of the impossible through STEM", Netia has been teaching her fellow peers and students since she first fell in love with STEM as a young girl.
As builders and craftspeople, Netia's parents raised her to work with her hands. "My parents always exposed me to new things as a kid," she reflects. Netia's mother decorated her childhood with art, costumes, and crafts. As the oldest of her 2 sisters, Netia would take on the role of a son and would often be found with her father in his woodworking workshop.
Netia teaching the importance of project deadlines at Boston Public Library
MIT Camp Ignites Netia's Passion for STEM
Netia first discovered the world of science and engineering when she was invited to a summer camp program hosted by MIT.
My father's guidence counselor didn't even allow him to apply to MIT and said he would make for a better trash collector. Then I found out they were actively looking for students like me and that I actually had a shot to go there! That was eye-opening and made me see that even my own family experienced discouragement from an early age.
Netia applied and got accepted to MIT, but more importantly realized the importance of sharing the exciting opportunities and possibilities with others in order to change their life trajectory. Before graduating high school, Netia started a non-profit club for girls in STEM, the first of her many acts aimed at helping others.
The Inspiring Journey of Netia & Mbadika
Netia and Boston Design Academy participants at Drone 101 Camp with DroneTechUAS (August 2019)
The first black woman that Netia McCray remembered seeing on the cover of a book was Queen Nzinga Ngola. Queen Nzinga ruled the South-central African country of Angola in the 17th century. She built an entire metropolis to help harbor runaway slaves as the Portuguese fought to seize and conquer Angola.
To honor Queen Nzigna Ngola's selfless spirit of activism, Netia was planning to go to Brazil to teach STEM workshops during her summer break at MIT. But tragedy struck, as her father was diagnosed with terminal cancer. He always dreamed of attending MIT, where he would get his class ring that students received once they finish their sophomore year, it's called an MIT "Brass Rat."
I flew home so my father could finally see it. He was overjoyed to see the McCray last name embedded on the MIT Brass Rat. He told me I was his Queen Elizabeth, carrying on his legacy.
When Netia's father caught wind of her plans to delay her Brazil trip he sharply responded, "No, bury me and take your flight to Brazil the next day." Netia followed her father's wish and flew to Brazil shortly after he passed. It was there that Netia decided to establish Mbadika, which translates to "idea" in Queen Nzinga's tribal language of Kimbundu.
Mbadika Unlocks Students' Inner Innovator & Entrepreneur
Left: Netia showing STEM after-school program participants how to design a Black Panther-inspired Kimoyo Bead using CAD (Computer-Aided Design). Right: Netia as Princess Shuri visits a STEM after-school program to showcase how Mbadika uses 3D Printing to unleash Wakandan technology (October 2018)
Based in Boston, Massachusets and Cape Town, South Africa, Mbadika is fostering youth-driven innovation and entrepreneurship around the world through educational workshops, online video series, and a product line of DIY project kits. Mbadika has brought STEM education and resources to over 2,000 youths around the world.
Netia partnered with Boston Neighborhood Network to create Mbadika Laboratory, or mLab for short. mLab is an online resource for students, parents, and educators to explore engaging STEM content with step-by-step guides. One such service is the organization's educational video series that helps students and teachers to learn how STEM concepts can be applied to build and design.
Some people think you're delusional if you do this work. I consider myself an optimistic realist. I'm well aware that this initiative will not fully solve the problem, but that's not my goal. I simply want to show a pathway that starts to provide solutions.
Netia goes on to share an incredible moment she witnessed with students working on a mLab DIY project kit. "We received photos of students from an all-boys organization working on building their own phone chargers and there was a little girl outside of the classroom who asked to participate. The photos then show this fearless 8-year-old girl assembling the pieces in a room full of middle school boys. You can literally see the astonishing faces of the boys in the photos. That one photo proves that we can accomplish what others don't think is possible for us to do according to the current framework of the world."
Making the Impossible Possible for All Students
Netia believes that making STEM accessible to students of all backgrounds is one of the key factors in combating the disparity in STEM education. Most of Netia's students have teachers who expect them to have easy access to resources that they don't have.
Netia and her affiliate organizations develop free digital resources for students and teachers to access. Each mLab video episode shows how to find free or cheap access to these resources, identifying locations of public libraries that carry updated computers and even 3D printers.
Netia, dressed here as Maleficent, inspired students to explore STEM through 3D Printing and Chocolate (October 2019)
For Halloween, Netia and her Mbadika team 3D-printed Maleficent horns and made them into chocolate molds, giving them out to kids with a step-by-step guide on how to 3D-print chocolate horns themselves.
Never underestimate who can and can't be at the table in regards to STEM. Everything can be cool, relatable, and accessible through STEM if you're willing to make it so. I have people who tell me 'No, you can't teach kids that,' and two weeks later we make it possible.
Join Netia and her incredible journey with Mbadika!