Natalie Coleman: Making STEAM Programs Accessible to Diverse Students

Inspiring young minds to strive for more

STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineerings, Arts, & Math) careers may seem out of reach for young students of color, so Natalie Coleman created an organization to inspire them.

Coleman is the founder and CEO of After the Peanut, a Chicago-based organization that provides various educational STEAM opportunities and programs for K-12 students, including coding programs and STEAM tutoring.

Headshot of Natalie Coleman.

After the Peanut

After serving as a high school physics and chemistry teacher, Coleman saw where the school system was failing. "There was a lack of diversity in textbooks and even in the curriculum," Coleman told Lifewire in a phone interview. "I kept a poster in my classroom with about 30 African American scientists on it, and that was the seed to my organization."

Coleman was inspired to launch After the Peanut in 2014, when she assigned her students to write a report on a scientist who looked like them. When one of the Black students in her class said he couldn't think of anyone, Coleman named a few, including George Washington Carver, and then she got stuck herself.

Quick Facts

Name: Natalie Coleman

Age: 41

From: Joliet, Illinois

Favorite Game to Play: NBA 2K

Key quote or motto he lives by: "All great achievements take time."

Dedicated to Education 

Coleman's dedication to the public school system dates back to her childhood. She attended public schools growing up, worked for them, and even served on the local school board in Joliet, Illinois. She spent the majority of her teaching career at Bloom High School before moving into an administrative role. 

"As an administrator, I saw the lack of programming and the direct outreach to underrepresented groups," she said. "I want to reach these underrepresented groups without the hassle directly."

The After the Peanut name honors George Washington Carver's journey into science, and alludes to the fact that other Black scientists have followed his footsteps.

Coleman also started her company because she wants to see students have more fun with STEAM. "Innovation is one of the company's core beliefs and is what I base all programming on," Coleman said. "When I talk about the curriculum not being diverse, it's not just that it didn't have minority faces, but it wasn't up to date at all."

A portrait of Natalie Coleman holding an apple.

After the Peanut

Coleman believes the pandemic was beneficial to schools because it challenged them to be different. Taking some of the organization's programming virtual also gave After the Peanut more support from the community. The organization received 30 Samsung tablet devices to help students run coding programs. 

Reaching More Minority STEAM Students 

After the Peanut is working on a 10-week summer STEAM program for students ages 9-17. Each week will focus on different topics from engineering to robotics, arts, and more. While the program is open to all students, the organization hopes young people of color will participate most, and is offering scholarships to students who need financial help to participate.

The organization teamed with Lewis University in Romeoville, Illinois, to host the summer program, which has given it a much-needed boost. 

Coleman says she'll brand After the Peanut's programs for different organizations, but teaming up with the university program really blew up. "Some people associate the quality of the program with the location, but the program will be what it is no matter where I put it."

When I talk about the curriculum not being diverse, it's not just that it didn't have minority faces, but it wasn't up to date at all.

Funding has been the most challenging aspect for Coleman, as well as getting people to see the value in the work she's doing. The organization is bootstrapped, with some financial help through grants from the local government. 

A lack of transportation to After the Peanut's summer program has also been a struggle, so Coleman is working on renting a bus to get students there. One of Coleman's other focuses is releasing a financial literacy app for young people. The app will launch in the fall, and Coleman hopes to raise venture capital to support that. 

"I think this app is going to be groundbreaking because it will allow students to learn how to invest in a fun way through gaming," she said. 

This year, Coleman said she'd like to launch her financial literacy app in at least 10 school districts. She's also working on raising funding to support a STEAM center to host After the Peanut's programming and tutoring efforts. Above all, Coleman wants to reach more minority students and inspire them to choose STEAM career paths.

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