When 17-year-old Ayonnah Tinsley was in third grade, she attended a field trip to the National Air and Space Museum (NASM). She and her classmates watched a film that linked aeronautics with music, art, and nature. At this moment, she knew she wanted to get involved with STEAM- science, technology, engineering, arts, and math.
But soon enough, Ayonnah was struck by the lack of diversity within the field. “I realized I wanted to be an advocate for STEAM education when I saw that there are engineers who are women [or] black, but this isn't represented in social media, which can deter many students from the career path,” she explained.
“I realized I wanted to be an advocate for STEAM education when I saw that there are engineers who are women [or] black, but this isn't represented in social media."
Motivated by the lack of resources and representations around STEAM careers, Ayonnah decided to become an advocate. In her role, she learns more about engineering and the different aspects of the profession every day. “In middle school, I started attending more events and doing more projects about aerospace engineering, which showed me that scientists have my hair texture or wear flashy clothes,” she recalled. “This shocked me, and I wanted to figure out how to show this to more students, especially younger students so that they can grow up knowing that their career options are endless.”
Today, Ayonnah is an advocate for STEAM education and the Founder of Yaya Stars, an online organization that focuses on providing STEAM resources to children. She is the author of This Is What an Engineer Looks Like, a children’s book inspiring young students to pursue careers they might not often see themselves in. Over the past year, she has helped nonprofits and elementary schools with STEAM education by hosting workshops and interviews with engineers.
“I strive to teach students about the daily impact STEM has in our lives."
As an exceptional Gen Z’er using her voice for good, Ayonnah was honored for her work as part of the ConversationaLIST in the Education category. “I strive to teach students about the daily impact STEM has in our lives because I feel that this topic should be taught earlier on rather than waiting until high school,” she said.
Ayonnah believes that consistency and patience are vital in finding your voice. “Something that has helped me stay consistent through my journey has been making a plan for every project I want to start,” she said. “Seeing an outline of your vision helps you stay on track when it might take a while to accomplish your goals.”
Ayonnah plans to start college soon, where she hopes to create more videos and, on a personal level, let go of what others think of her. Afterward, she hopes to live in California. “It would be a dream to be working for Nike or any of my favorite companies and work in a career that deals with innovation or learning development,” she said.
The Conversationalist's mission resonates with Ayonnah because she believes that the community members want to find ways to make a change, avoid performative activism, and learn. “The Conversationalist is a place where we can find out what we should learn more about before advocating for it,” she said.
For Ayonnah, in a unified world, everyone respects each other regardless of their identity, and there are no arguments over whether or not someone else's life matters. She believes Gen Z can achieve this by understanding that not everyone will agree with their views and that their social media feeds don’t represent what the rest of the world sees. “Once we see this, then it can be easier to have productive conversations that can help others learn rather than only emphasize why we think they are wrong,” she explained.
To break open her echo chamber, Ayonnah finds that talking to her parents is helpful because of their experience. “Politics and history repeat themselves frequently, so they will often give me a point of view that makes me critically think about what the government has already tried to do and how we still have to come up with better solutions,” she said. “Critical thinking is such an important tool because it makes me think for myself and avoid misinformation.”
"Something to remember when navigating through difficult conversations is that you should want them to try to understand or learn something, not expect them to change their mind right away.”
In approaching difficult conversations, Ayonnah likes to lead by figuring out the ‘why’ of the other person’s argument to avoid misunderstanding. “Something to remember when navigating through difficult conversations is that you should want them to try to understand or learn something, not expect them to change their mind right away,” she said.