Partner Spotlight: Don’t Be Scared

Jaime WaltonFront Page, Partners, Spotlight

Don’t Be Scared is an organization founded and inspired by Dr. Ryan Johnson’s (Dr. J) journey through imposter syndrome while pursuing his STEM degrees. As a professor of chemistry, Dr. J not only influences his students but also works to balance the scales and help ensure everyone belongs in STEM. 

His program works with everyone – whether you’re kickstarting your career, climbing the professional ladder, or nurturing personal growth – guiding you to overcome self-doubt and reach your full potential. Led by Dr. J, he and his team work with organizations and individuals to offer practical advice, tools, and heartfelt conversations with professionals who’ve battled imposter syndrome and emerged stronger. 

They were a crucial partner in helping us develop and launch the first iteration of our North Tulsa STEM Hub (NTSH) in partnership with the City of Tulsa. This coalition was created in collaboration with the Tulsa Dream Center but has evolved to be more of a space and less of a place. The NTSH focuses on Tulsa Public School’s McLain feeder pattern, ensuring students have access to STEM from kindergarten through high school, both in and out of school. 

According to Human Rights Watch, the population of North Tulsa is 35.7% black, and “half of all black people in Tulsa live in North Tulsa.” It’s well documented that BIPOC students are less likely to pursue STEM. According to the Pew Research Center, Black workers comprise 11% of all jobs but only 9% of STEM jobs. And that statistic is double for Hispanic workers, who represent 17% of all jobs and only 8% of STEM jobs. 

Another study by Pew Research shares that about six in ten Black adults with a postgraduate degree (61%) and 64% of those with a college degree say that the lack of access to quality education is a major reason more young people do not pursue STEM degrees in college. Additionally, the majority of those surveyed think more young Black people would pursue STEM studies in college if they saw examples of high achievers in these areas who are Black.

Dr. J’s programming combined his knowledge and love for chemistry with his passion for ensuring STEM is inclusive. Imagine big, colorful, and exciting chemical reaction displays and engaging and educational experiments, like ice cream in a bag. This labor of love also included recruiting students from the courses he teaches to serve as volunteers and near-peer mentors to youth in his programs. 

Last year, Dr. J took a new role at Langston University as an assistant professor and chair of the chemistry department. While he is less able now to serve Tulsa’s youth directly, his work continues by providing professional development and curated resources for others. This includes working with schools and school districts, ensuring teachers and students walk in confidently and with a growth mindset. From understanding the nuances of imposter syndrome to fostering a growth mindset in classrooms, he arms educators with tools to create a more supportive and inclusive environment for all.