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creative:impact - Gaming leads to great life decisions. Really!

Digital Divas participants.
Doug Coombe
Concentrate Media
Digital Divas participants.

Creative industries in Washtenaw County add hundreds of millions of dollars to the local economy. In the weeks and months to come, Deb Polich, the President and CEO of Creative Washtenaw, explores the myriad of contributors that make up the creative sector in Washtenaw County.

Deb Polich
David Fair
89.1 WEMU
Deb Polich, President and CEO of Creative Washtenaw, at the WEMU studio.


Digital Divas is a series of programs founded at Eastern Michigan University in 2010 to encourage girls to explore areas in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math). Programming used to encourage and engage middle and high school girls are: conferences, summer camps, mentoring opportunities, and interview series. With the use of the campus of Eastern Michigan University, we are able to impact many middle and high school girls where they can explore STEM in a supportive environment. Today Digital Divas is doing so much as they strive to create spaces for girls and women wanting to engage in STEM.

The goals of the Digital Divas program is to:

  • Introduce middle and high school girls to careers in STEM
  • Recruit more girls into STEM majors in post-secondary education
  • Give access to underrepresented female populations in STEM
  • Breakdown gender stereotypes regarding STEM majors & careers
  • Encourage ethical and safe behaviors in texting, emailing, social media, and online.

By using mentoring, role modeling, encouragement, and engagement, we hope more girls will explore majors & careers in STEM.

Because of the great success of the Digital Divas programs and the Michigan economy’s need for a skilled workforce, we have now expanded to offer programming for male middle and high school students. By offering a program for boys, Digital Dudes, EMU is helping to build awareness of STEM majors and careers for young men to consider after high school graduation. This program plans on targeting urban and rural schools lacking in the resources necessary to promote STEM education. This program will partner with at-risk males by engaging them in hands-on learning and exposure to a college campus environment in hopes to improve high school graduation rates and help build a pathway to college.


Eastern Michigan University's Digital Divas program director Bia Hamed.
Doug Coombe
Concentrate Media
Eastern Michigan University's Digital Divas program director Bia Hamed.

Bia is an advocate for Girls in STEM. During her time at Eastern Michigan University, she has helped to build and continually develop programming for middle school and high school students and STEM, such as camps and conferences. One of her programs, Digital Divas, has served thousands of middle and high school girls from SE Michigan for 11 years. She has single-handedly managed the Digital Divas program and founded the Office of K-12 STEM Outreach. This office’s mission is to provide hands-on opportunities with STEM for all students. Bia has earned a doctorate degree in Philosophy of Educational Leadership, researching better ways higher education can recruit and serve minority women in STEM majors. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, traveling, and gardening. Bia lives in Canton, Michigan with her son Yacoub, and her two cats Bissa and Tiger.



EMU Digital Divas

EMU Digital Dudes

Concentrate Media: "EMU's Digital Divas program expands into Detroit with esports teams for high school girls"


Deb Polich: Welcome to creative:impact on 89 one WEMU. Thank you for tuning in every Tuesday to meet creative guests rooted in Washtenaw County and explore how their creative businesses, products, programs, and services impact and add to our local quality of life, place, and economy. I'm Deb Polich, president and CEO of Creative Washtenaw and your host for creative:impact. We're going to cover a lot of ground today with our guest, Dr. Bia Hamed, director of K through 12 STEM Outreach for Eastern Michigan University. Dr. Hamed, welcome to creative:impact.

Bia Hamed: Thank you so much.

Deb Polich: So, you know, I know that our listeners know a lot about Eastern Michigan University. But tell us about your specific program, the K through 12 STEM outreach.

Bia Hamed: My job is to promote STEM equity, no matter what the school district is, no matter what the county. My job is to facilitate equality for all kids in STEM subjects, and that means promoting STEM majors and STEM careers to children everywhere.

Deb Polich: And STEM, by the way, define that for our listeners.

Bia Hamed: Sure, it's science, technology, engineering, and math.

Deb Polich: And how does a K through 12 program here at Eastern? Is it because you're teaching in that area, or are students in that area? How does that work?

Bia Hamed: So, I am an administrator by trade. I've worked for Eastern Michigan University for 11 years now, and, actually, a group of alumni named GameAbove has gotten behind me to sponsor my position as a STEM director, to do just that--to go out and promote STEM for kids in various capacities.

Deb Polich: Throughout the community, like in Ann Arbor, Washtenaw County, Detroit, and beyond?

Bia Hamed: Beyond. Beyond Southeast Michigan, actually, Michigan state.

Deb Polich: OK. The whole state. Great. Well, there goes Eastern serving the community. That's great. So, you know, as an arts and creative industries advocate, I wish the A for art was in that STEM list. But, you know, I understand that it's already there, inherently in the creation of science, technology, engineering, and math. And one of the programs that you have been involved with for a while is the Digital Divas program. Tell us about that.

Bia Hamed: Digital Divas has been around for--this is our 12th year. And we started out by doing conferences for middle and high school girls, which we would have thousands of girls come each year to Eastern Michigan University and actually explore the campus doing STEM projects. We take over the campus. And the purpose of that is just having a culture--building a culture--of girls in STEM, so girls can feel comfortable in STEM environments.

Deb Polich: And so, that continues to be an issue? Women not necessarily tapping into the STEM industries or fields?

Bia Hamed: Oh yeah, it's a big problem. So, let's take engineering, for instance. Of all the engineering degrees that we award in the United States, only 20 to 23 percent go to women. And of that, only three percent of those degrees go to women of color. So, we're very underrepresented. And engineering is so important because, basically, engineers solve problems, right?

Deb Polich: Right.

Bia Hamed: So, we need that diversity. We need to know how a woman would solve a problem. That's why it's so important that we be represented at the table. And pay equity also is a big issue, and women are paid far less, especially in technology and engineering, than their male counterparts. So, we're just trying to make a little noise, you know?

Deb Polich: So, recruiting women or engaging women in this work, how do you do that? How do you get them intrigued about this aspect?

Bia Hamed: So, we call upon women in industry, right? We work with various companies all over Southeast Michigan to come and help us with Digital Divas to help promote their careers in STEM. And we do that through breakout sessions.

Digital Divas participants.
Doug Coombe
Concentrate Media
Digital Divas participants.

Deb Polich: OK. And is there a Digital Dudes program too?

Bia Hamed: [00:04:19] Yes. So, being a mom of three boys, how can I forget, you know, the guys? So we started right before the shutdown. We started our first Digital Dude program, which promoted careers in STEM and pathways to college, which went great. But then, we were quickly shut down, so we're hoping to get that up and going again.

Deb Polich: That's great. Eighty nine one WEMU's creative:impact continues. I'm Deb Polich, and I'm talking about digital divas and STEM education with Bia Hamed, the director of the K through 12 STEM outreach program here at EMU. So, video game design is certainly one of those creative industries that that requires a STEM education. There are plenty of other industries that do that too. But you have a competition, I think. Share with me how that whole thing works.

Bia Hamed: Oh, are you talking about e-sports?

Deb Polich: Yes.

Bia Hamed: Oh yeah. So e-sports is great. It's a area where people go online and play video games and they verse someone they don't even know somewhere. It could be anywhere around the world. And the esports industry is a multibillion dollar industry now, right? It's really huge. And, in that space, women are very underrepresented, right? So we have 30 percent of the girls that participate in e-sports. I should say there's only 30 percent of girls who participate in e-sports that actually play, and there's 35 percent of girls who actually just watch. So we're missing out. An,d you know, I grew up in a time where it was sinful to play video games, but actually, you know, research shows that it's actually good for people. Like, it teaches so many skills that are so necessary, like communication skills, right? You're talking to someone you didn't even know, and you have to get your point across. There's leadership skills, right? You're on a team. You're learning how to how to work as a team, right? Unseen through video and headsets. And there's problem-solving skills, critical thinking skills. You're thinking how to play this video game five and 10 steps ahead of where you're at. So, there's all kinds of skills. And then, not only that, it builds a comfort with technology. Like, these are girls--these are kids--who are getting online, and they're, you know, utilizing several different platforms to play these video games. They may be chatting, they're playing video games, they're on, you know, a headset. So they're really learning how to be savvy. And with tomorrow--to mark the jobs of tomorrow, these are necessary skills that will make them very employable.

Deb Polich: Sure. And all along, they're interacting with things like visual media and music and production quality and design all along. So, you know, you mentioned that the business of video gaming is huge. It's like a $100 billion industry worldwide. It's really big. But only about 30 percent of the game designers are actually women, even though about 75 percent apparently play or hang out with people who play. So, you know, the women that have been in your program, do you have any stories about people that have gone on either in that kind of industry or like it?

Bia Hamed: Well, my team has been together for two years, and what I do is I bring in women to come and talk to them, to act as role models, to tell them their plan and their vision for their future. But I've had some of our students have already graduated from high school, and they move on to STEM careers. Like, I know people have played video games and been on e-sports teams that have moved to cybersecurity or who have moved to engineering or, you know, it's that comfort that it builds and that confidence.

Deb Polich: Sure.

Bia Hamed:You know, that's a strong piece. So, being that we have a team here on the campus of Eastern Michigan University with the Early College Alliance, we are just starting a new team in Detroit. So, we partnered with an organization there where we had 11 girls sign up for our e-sports team, and we're just kicking that off right now.

Deb Polich: Oh, that's great. It's expanding. And so how about you? Are you a gamer? Do you play?

Bia Hamed: No, not at all.

Deb Polich: Not at all?

Bia Hamed: No, not at all. I won't even fake it. And you know what? That's what I say about doing Digital Divas and promoting STEM. I wish I had studied science, technology, engineering, or math, but I didn't. But you know what? That doesn't stop me from promoting it and trying to let girls know that this could be a very positive path for them to be very...they can have so many job offers and they can make great money and be on the fast track to a president of a company because they are that unicorn, because they are that person that, you know, is underrepresented in these areas.

Digital Divas participants.
Doug Coombe
Concentrate Media
Digital Divas participants.

Deb Polich: Well, you sure can tell your passion for this. And, you know, it sounds like you're going to continue to be changing the lives of a lot of young women. You know, Bia, thank you so much for being part of creative:impact today and telling us about your program and how you're trying to stimulate the minds of young people. I'm Deb Polich, and that was Dr. Bia Hamed, director of K through 12 STEM Outreach for Eastern Michigan University. Find out more about her and her programs at WEMU dot org. I'm Deb Polich, President CEO of Creative Washtenaw, and your host for creative:impact. Please join me next week when we meet another creative Washtenaw guest on this, your community. NPR Radio Station 891 WEMU and WEMU HD One Ypsilanti.

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Polich hosts the weekly segment creative:impact, which features creative people, jobs and businesses in the greater Ann Arbor area.
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