Community Spotlight: New B-Steam Accelerator Camp For Girls Starts This Fall, Led By U of I Alumna

By, Zulema Herrera University of Illinois student

The B-STEAM(Business, Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math) Accelerator Camp, sponsored by the Dream Girls Academy, is a new program for young girls grades 6-12 that will last for a duration of six weeks every Sunday starting Oct. 10-Nov. 14.

Dr. Bianca Bailey, a two-time alumna of the University of Illinois who recently received her PhD from the Agricultural & Biological Engineering Department, is leading this camp to teach the girls how to create and become young entrepreneurs. The ReGeneration Fund, started by Sharon Irish and her husband and managed by the Community Foundation of East Central Illinois, approved $6,500 to help kickstart this camp.

Photo courtesy of Dr. Bianca Bailey

Can you tell me a bit about yourself and what you are currently involved in?

My name is Dr. Bianca Bailey, I am originally from Dallas, Texas, I actually just finished my PhD in August at the University of Illinois in agriculture and bioengineering. Currently, right now, I have a couple of startups here in the Champaign-Urbana area. But one thing in particular that I’m doing in the community is I have been chosen to facilitate a business, science, technology, engineering, and arts program for girls.

This program is very important because it will help to train, inform, and educate girls grades 6-12th grade in the area how to be their own boss. Also how they can have an idea of something and manifest it into a physical reality, then apply a value to it. To be able to use that product and sell it and make a profit from it. So, we want to teach them the different stages of entrepreneurship and we're going to talk to them about innovation and how with their dreams and their ideas, that there’s no limit to what they can achieve.

I see that especially through the work that I’ve done, through education. I am the second African American women to receive a PhD in agriculture and biological engineering from the U of I in 100 years of the program. I think me being able to leave this program is very important because I also stand as a symbol, and stand as someone who's actually trailblazed through these areas. So that I can turn back and say come on along through the journey, these are the steps that you can go through in order to be successful. Maybe there are some easier things or opinions that I can give and offer to the young ladies that are with their path, a little bit easier than it was for me.

Can you describe the Dream Girls Academy to me and its mission?

I am actually running this camp for the Dream Girls Academy and it is kind of facilitated by Debarah McFarland and Dr. Sharon Irish. It's a nonprofit organization with a mission to cater to girls in order to give them the tools and the skills they need to be successful and for me I'm all about that.

Me growing up, I was a part of a similar program called Girls Incorporated, which was an afterschool program where they teach girls how to be strong smart, and bold. That's one of the things I did learn through Girls Inc. is how to be an entrepreneur. At the age of 18, we started a little greeting card company and got a chance to be a part of the Business Plan competition in new york. So, those are the types of things that I was involved in and I think the Dream Girls Academy really gives the young girls in the Champaign Urbana area the opportunity to be exposed to those same things.

B-STEAM Accelerator Camp Flier

What do you hope they benefit from the camp and why target this age group of 6-12 grade girls?

Number one, targeting young girls grades 6-12, these are sort of the more mature ages we can try to get a hold of the girls and show them something that might interest them. Right now. what’s driving a lot of young people is money and making their own money and being able to support themselves.

We see that in the next generation, that they do want to be independent and one thing that starts with this is being financially independent. So, we want to teach these young women — at the age where they can have the responsibility of having their own debit card, having their own bank account, and having their own email address — that as an entrepreneur you have to learn how to be able to budget. So if we can, teach them how to budget a small project.

For example, one of the activities is an herbal tea blend class. We’ll teach them about certain herbs that have healing properties that they can actually use and put together as a blend and either administer that to their family if they’re sick or sell it as a product. Because there is a need in the community, healing is a need, and therefore the solution would be some herb that the girls can empower themselves to make. It’s easy to buy and it’s locally available and they can make a profit from that. So what we are going to do is teach them about the importance of herbal healing and then we’ll assign well how do you calculate the cost of the raw products, how do you upcharge the product so that you can make revenue, what is profit, what is cashflow those certain terms.

What does it mean to you to receive such community support on your ideas, especially if these ideas have been culminating?

I think it makes me feel very validated and very confident that I am walking in the right purpose. I’ve actually had an idea over a decade ago to have a stem camp and it was actually going to happen at Howard University, which is my undergrad in Washington D.C. But, I ended up moving here to Illinois for graduate school and I stayed here so I completed my PhD just recently in August. Having Sharon contact me right away, actually just further supported my step in the right direction as a woman in stem and gives me satisfaction that I can now just turn around really quickly and give back and pay it forward to the community so quickly.

In 2011, I was nominated for the White House Champion of Change for women and girls in science technology engineering, and math and that was under President Obama. So, it’s been a long time coming but that title now holds very true and he did write me a letter. In that letter, he told me to continue to out-innovate out-create the rest of the world but that also means to continue to teach the next generation because that’s the legacy that I have to leave.

Considering your background, and with being a woman of color in your professional field what are some struggles you have faced? What advice would you give to women, women of color, out there on how to enter these spaces?

Number one, I always say imposter syndrome, I used to have anxiety and some of the things that I have done to get through that is I have gone through some therapy. Having mentors from both the male and the female side also helped to give you a better picture of what’s going on in your environment. Because a lot of the times when we’re stepping in institutional spaces we don’t understand the politics of education and the bureaucracy that might exist there. So, I have definitely been able to learn and be exposed to the hierarchy of academia in institutions to be able to navigate the system.

But, you have to have input from elders from deans and from people that have come before you that are willing to give you an honest opinion on how it’s working so that you can make a clear decision on what you want to do. Whether you want to stay in a space that you might feel is toxic to you, but you know you can get through it and get out of it. At the end of the day it’s not going to be easy but if you have a village with you, people supporting you, and your strong and solid within yourself then you are enough to make it through.

Music for me is number one, a lot of people get through a lot of situations through music because it has messages and mantras that help us be a little bit more patient and understanding with the situations that we’re in.

I would say know that you are enough, and be you.

What do you hope for in terms of the future of the camp?

I hope this type of work will be able to serve as a model for camps that will be created in the future. I hope that maybe there is a possibility for this to be virtual to a certain degree. My overall goal is to be able to have a camp where we can actually take young people from the community and take them to Africa, take them to Asia, take their products there, or make products in the country. To be able to talk to entrepreneurs in other countries where they can see on an international level how is the business running and what are some of the problems that other people are facing that we’re not facing.

Maybe there’s a space and area that they use to create and solve a problem in another area that we may not have in the US. For me, I think it made a difference in my life because as a young person I was exposed to traveling at a young age. Traveling internationally has definitely made a difference in the way that I think about certain problems in a way that I approach problem-solving, whether its academia or in a personal social setting.

To learn more about the camp, visit the Dream Girls Academy website here:

To learn more about the ReGeneration Fund, check out our article here: