STEM Pipeline Blog / July 11, 2022
Collaboration and Karts: Saginaw STEM Founder Dante Davis on Bringing Knowledge Home
A love of cars and high aptitude in science and math is what led Saginaw native Dante Davis to pursue a degree in engineering, at the suggestion of his high school guidance counselor.
Davis attended Saginaw High School and graduated in 1993, heading next to Michigan Technological University to study mechanical engineering. After Michigan Tech, Davis put his skills to work in the automotive industry, doing what he loved, which was designing and engineering cars.
“It all started out from some advice from my guidance counselor at Saginaw High. He said ‘Hey, you’re a good student with all A’s in math and science. You should be an engineer,’” recalls Davis.
“I asked, ‘What’s an engineer?’ because the only thing that came to mind was a train. He showed me a list of all the different disciplines in engineering and their respective salaries. So, based on my love of cars, those respective salaries, and my grades in math and science, I said, ‘Hey, if I pick this one, can I work on designing cars for a living?’ He said yes, so that’s what I picked.”
Ever inspired by how things work, his path eventually led to Los Angeles and roles with both SpaceX and Tesla, working in collaboration to engineer landing gear on rockets for SpaceX and fix closure issues on the doors of Tesla’s Model X.
After several years problem solving for both organizations, Davis wanted to put his experience to good use and make an impact with youth in his hometown.
Davis surveyed for what was needed locally and had hundreds of community members answer with a resounding call for STEM-based programs. As a result, Davis started Saginaw STEM in 2019.
“I’ve had an awesome life just based on my love of cars. My hope was about creating something bigger than myself, giving back to my community and helping younger kids get into STEM careers,” says Davis. “Because, at that point, I had been in a STEM career for over 20 years with so many amazing experiences. I wanted to help other kids here get some of those same opportunities that I’ve had.”
Saginaw STEM got up and running during the pandemic and in 2021, Davis reached out to a friend to talk about continuing the journey to help students in Saginaw gain experience in STEM. That friend suggested he reach out to and model Saginaw STEM after a program started by Dr. Calvin Mackie, who created STEM NOLA in New Orleans.
Davis and Dr. Mackie were able to connect later on in the summer of 2021, and Davis flew down to attend the next STEM NOLA event that July, which was a hands-on, rocket-themed activity for youth. The event proved to be inspirational and sparked ideas for the potential of furthering both Saginaw STEM and STEM-based events in the community.
Davis ran with that inspiration – and fast – holding his first event about a month later in Saginaw, themed after electrical circuits, and with the help and support of Dr. Mackie. Building on that success, Davis hosted subsequent events throughout the fall and has continued into 2022.
Saginaw STEM now runs an after-school program called the First Things First After School Enrichment Program which currently involves about 12 high school kids between Saginaw High and Arthur Hill High School. They also run events called STEM Saturdays, which you’ll find on the STEM Pipeline calendar, sponsored with the help of Ascension St. Mary’s.
Currently, the First Things First After School Enrichment Program is working on building go-karts, which they will eventually convert from gas to electric. In the fall, Saginaw STEM will be working to build a solar-powered version.
Davis says the impact has been astounding and measurable – just based on positive feedback and interaction from youth. He’s also seen Saginaw STEM’s partnerships continue to grow.
“When I started, I knew that I could help 15-20 kids with just my resources and could help a few kids get to and through college. But I knew if I partnered with the community and got other local companies, sponsors or universities behind me, that we could help thousands of kids together. That’s what my model was based on, just the community all coming together, because we’re all doing something to try to help,” says Davis.
To date, many of Saginaw STEM’S partners and co-collaborators include: Saginaw Valley State University, Delta College, Hemlock Semiconductor, Michigan Tech, Consumers Energy, Wanigas Credit Union, Team One Credit Union, Kroger, Big Brothers Big Sisters, General Motors, Ascension St. Mary’s, the National Organization for the Professional Advancement of Black Chemists and Chemical Engineers (NOBCChE) sponsored by Dow, Michigan Banner, Saginaw Public School District, Stellantis (Chrysler Corporation), African American race car team Strategic Quality Solutions, which aims to get African American youth involved in NASCAR, the MiSTEM Network and the Great Lakes Bay Region STEM Pipeline.
We recently caught up with Dante at People, Planet, Prosperity, the annual convening of the STEM Learning Ecosystems Community of Practice (SLECoP), and met in person for the first time, where he and Saginaw STEM were part of the exhibitor’s hall.
“We’d been on several Zoom calls, but that was my first time actually meeting them. After Claire Bunker showed the data from our events and our video, we got to catch up at the Saginaw STEM table. We’re so excited to be there and what the Great Lakes Bay STEM Ecosystem does for the Great Lakes Bay Region is phenomenal,” says Davis. “They help bring all of us together, help with sharing our resources and spreading opportunities to be able to help more students through STEM.”
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