203: Cynthia Chapple (CC Black Lab/Black Girls Do STEM)

Cynthia Chapple on Innovation City

“We have to abandon this idea that kids need to just be able to sit in a classroom at a desk and be quiet enough to listen to a teacher.” -Cynthia Chapple

Welcome to Season 7 of Innovation City (The St. Louis Edition), a podcast featuring innovators, creators, and disruptors to discover how business is changing in the modern world.

Created and produced by SLAM! Agency and Aīre Ventures, Innovation City gives you an inside look at how rapidly business and culture are changing thanks to increasing diversity and inclusion, heightened creativity, and a stronger and better-connected business community.

Today’s guest is Cynthia Chapple, founder and CEO of Black Girls Do STEM, an organization offering exploration of STEM career pathways to middle and high school black girls in St. Louis. In this episode, Cynthia sits down with the team to discuss her journey as a black woman in STEM, what her organization is doing to close the gap between women and STEM, and what institutions should be doing to better serve our youth. 


They discuss:

  • Cynthia’s Superpower
    • Reading people’s body language and she discovered this because she is super expressive. You can read everything on her face
  • Love for Science and What that journey looked like
    • Cynthia was always curious; always wanted to know how things worked or didn’t work.
    • “The key to curiosity is the desire to continue to know, to continue to know.” 
    • Curiosity is a big piece of her company, to help girls find joy in the learning and the question asking.
    • So much of STEM is thinking and problem solving, and waiting for AHA moment.
  • Black Girls Do STEM- Where are the “average” people in STEM?
    • There’s this Einstein vision and that everyone has to be making discoveries and be genius level. 
    • She’s trying to demystify STEM that “only the brilliant should apply.”
    • The average people in STEM are the artists, the dancers
    • We only want to acknowledge the brilliant
    • She tries to encompass a very broad spectrum of what STEM means.
  • How early do you have to get in there to 
    • We already have children at the 6th graders who already believe in the stereotypes and negative self talk
    • Their first program is in self-confidence. Getting girls to see themselves as STEM capable. 
    • We have to help them uncover what’s in them that’s already STEM. 
  • Cynthia’s Journey as a Black Woman in STEM
    • Being the only black person in a pre-calc high school classes
    • Being the only other black person at university level in the classes
    • Feeling of isolation that she can speak to.
    • She had a great undergraduate counselor who believed in her abilities. 
    • We can all point to those experiences and people who helped when you’re isolated in a space.
    • There were also those professors who weren’t kind or supportive of girls in their classes. 
    • She had people tell her for her whole life she was special, but she thinks about the kids who didn’t have that. 
    • As much as her experience professional and educationally, it was somewhat isolating but it’s been very similar to the story other black women tell. 
  • Schools are failing black people in creating opportunities in STEM. What are some things that you would like to see happen in institutions to make sure it’s more of a hospitable place for black women in STEM?
    • We need traditional education to understand that there are cultural dynamics that need to be incorporated in majority African American schools. 
    • Traditional education needs to take a unique approach for different kids and their needs. 
    • We have to abandon this idea that kids need to just be able to sit in a classroom at a desk and be quiet enough to listen to a teacher. 
    • “Schools need to become places of innovation, places of noise, and chaos, because that is what learning looks like.”
    •  It needs to be student-driven and student-led. 
    • Traditional education is all about socializing kids to follow rules. 
  • Black Girls Do STEM Programs
    • We bring girls from across the city of all backgrounds
    • Number one qualifier is first generation students
    • Kids who have proximity to people in STEM are more likely to 
    • 84% of their students last year were first generation STEM exposed
    • Girls come together in a community format and they meet one Saturday a month, for a high-impact STEM engagement 
    • They also do one hour of mentoring with a black woman in STEM. 
    • It’s about knowing someone who is in STEM that you have access to, that you can ask real questions of. 
    • Last component is social-emotional learning


Lightning Round:

  • If I was stuck in my house for 3 months, the three things I’d want by my side are:
    • Air fryer, a puppy and chocolate
  • A time when I felt on top of the world…
    • She’s so high energy she always feels on top of the world, There was an award that she got back in 2019 and during the reception downtown and she felt on top of the world because her niece came to the award ceremony and her niece said, “Am I a back girl who does STEM?”
  • If I could whisper something in the ear of my younger self I would say…
    • Get out of your head and into the world, live a little more in those moments
  • If I wrote a book, its title would be…
    • What Resilience Doesn’t Allow


Get in Touch

Visit the Black Girls Do STEM Website

You can find Black Girls Do STEM on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter