Faces of Fisk
Isaac Thompson: Dedicated to the Youth and S.T.E.M
by Jazzmine D. Brooks, Communications Intern
As a child, Isaac Thompson had an immense curiosity for the way objects worked. This curiosity for mechanisms and how they operated cultivated his interest in math and science and he would later go on to receive a degree in Industrial Engineering Technology with an emphasis in manufacturing.
After working in automotive for over 22 years with companies such as Nissan, Peterbilt Motors and CEI International. The Nashville native had been working with youth since the age of 16 as coach, mentor, tutor, and counselor. A chance opportunity placed him on a new career path supporting his passion of educating and mentoring underserved youth in the community, while staying true to his engineering roots.
“For many years, I had been jotting notes on a legal pad with the premise of developing a S.T.E.M program for youth when an opportunity was presented to work with a youth group one summer,” said Thompson. “15 summers later and I am still working with this group.”
Today, Thompson serves as the executive director of the THRUST / GUSTO / PCSI Math & Science Enrichment Programs at Fisk University. Launched in late 2003, THRUST, an acronym for To Harness, Retain, Understand, Sustain and Teach, recruits boys in 5th through 12th grades from underrepresented groups into an 8-week summer-science camp. GUSTO, an acronym for Girls Using Scientific Tools for Opportunities in S.T.E.M, was formed in 2004 and provides enriching activities that prepare girls for careers in math and science disciplines. PCSI (Pre-College Science Institute) for Kindergarten through 4th grade boys and girls is the newest and fastest growing program. This year, it completed its 5th summer. During the academic year, THRUST Math & Science Enrichment Program operates an after school program in conjunction with Spruce Street Community Development Corporation.
"When I mention THRUST, I have always been honest when telling people that the program was born out of frustration”, said Thompson. “The creation of this program stemmed from a conversation with several local parents following a PTSA (Parent, Teacher, and Student Association) meeting where they expressed concerns about the lack of direction and development their sons had in their daily/academic lives.”
The PTSA meeting came at an opportune time for Thompson as he was considering exploring other career interests outside of engineering. "In the beginning, my mindset was simply to offer help with math and science. That was my background and I was comfortable in that area,” recalls Thompson. “It didn't take very long to realize that math and science weren’t the only deficits. In fact, the needs of these youth extended beyond academics; there was a need to work with them, talk with them, and be involved with their lives as young people.”
What started as a temporary willingness to help with a summer program has evolved into a robust family of math and science programs for under resourced students. On average, Thompson sees nearly 50 students enroll in each of his S.T.E.M enrichment programs yearly. Over 98% of the students graduate high school. From that percentage, 93% enter a two-to-four year college or university with nearly 30% entering S.T.E.M disciplines, according to Thompson. Additionally, Thompson’s work with THRUST and GUSTO has created a recruiting pipeline for the university, as many of the former participants and their family members have later enrolled and graduated from Fisk University.
“My passion for working with the youth runs deep and I have been fortunate to have the opportunity to mentor countless young men and women in the Nashville community,” said Thompson. “I am committed to continuing my work, not only with the THRUST, GUSTO, and the PCSI programs, but mentorship and youth outreach in general to make the increase in minority students seeking higher education the new norm within the Nashville community.”
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