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Crystal Morton’s love of numbers drives her own STEM outreach

The new director of K-12 outreach for Women & Hi Tech knows a thing or two about reaching youth with STEM messaging and opportunities. Dr. Crystal Morton started her own program —Girls STEM Institute—which is focused on providing powerful STEM learning experiences to young women of color. She’s also a former high school math teacher and currently an associate professor of mathematics education at IUPUI, where she teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in elementary and secondary mathematics methods.

Crystal grew up in North Carolina and attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for her bachelor’s and master’s degrees, as well as her Ph.D. She ventured to the Midwest for an employment opportunity at IUPUI and she’s found a community where she really likes to get involved.

Recalling a story her mother told her from when she was young, Crystal said “When I was about four years old, I started teaching my sisters. I was the youngest, but they always let me be the teacher.” She knew she was destined to be a teacher.

Dr. Crystal Morton

“Research shows that children learn better from those who look like them.”

Money was what made Crystal first fall in love with numbers. “I always loved money because it was like magic,” Crystal said. “When I was around three or four, my parents would always give me a dollar to buy something at the store and I would leave with what I thought was even more money because I had not fully grasped the concept of change. Until one day it just clicked, I was getting change back because what I was buying was less than a dollar. I think it was at that moment that I really fell in love with numbers standing outside of the local Piggly Wiggly grocery store.”

Building great relationships with her math teachers is also something that stands out for Crystal. She recalled several relationships with teachers who helped shape her to be the educator she is today. However, she noticed that there weren’t very many teachers that looked like her. This left a lasting impression on Crystal and drives a component of her current academic research agenda.

“Research shows that children learn better from those who look like them,” she explained. Her research also looks to understand why African American students, particularly those who identify as female, are not reaching their full potential in mathematics.

Being in Indiana since 2008, Crystal is thankful for the opportunities that the city has given her both personally and professionally. Although she is new to her role with Women & Hi Tech, Crystal is excited and looking forward to continuing to build upon the partnerships with the community and other learning spaces. She is eager to provide more opportunities for authentic and transformative STEM learning experiences.

As learning spaces are also at home, Crystal believes in involving families and care providers as early as possible. This is something that is also an important focus for Girls STEM Institute, Crystal’s pride and joy.

Girls STEM Institute is targeted for girls of color, however, the organization has started to work on expanding the experience to young boys of color as well.

The institute’s programming takes a holistic approach. Therefore, they explore the ways to use STEM in everyday life and provide hands-on learning opportunities that address STEM and overall wellness and well-being. Some of the learning experiences come from everyday items like skin care; the youth learn ingredients from the label to better understand what they are putting on their bodies. They have courses that discuss wellness like nutrition as well as financial literacy and photography. A major goal is to help learners understand that STEM can be a tool for personal and social change. The institute also works to connect the children and their families with any resources and programming they request.

We’re sure to hear more from this educational leader as she advances her work with Girls STEM Institute and settles into her new role as director of K-12 outreach for Women & Hi Tech. Score this one a win for Indiana over North Carolina.

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