Neidra Lafontant, at right, with her neice, Niia Pierre Antoine, at Dark Side Comics.

Neidra Lafontant, at right, with her neice, Niia Pierre Antoine, at Dark Side Comics.

Image: Alan Cresto

Haitian-American Neirda Lafontant, 41, uses her background as a civil engineer to pave the way for future innovators in S.T.E.A.M., (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) careers. A dynamic speaker and motivator, Lafontant created the nonprofit FUNducation in 2019 to give kids, especially under-represented kids, an opportunity to build robots, learn about forensics, explore coding and more. “Many kids don’t know about these careers and could never imagine themselves in a S.T.E.A.M. profession” she says. “But, especially as a Black woman, I like to tell them, ‘If you can see it, you can be it.’”

Lafontant left her engineering job at a Sarasota company after she was tapped last year to work as an educator in a national pilot science program for Title 1 students created and funded by Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak. Palm View Elementary is the first public school in Florida to use this science approach, she says. Then, after school, she packs up her SUV and heads to various organizations in Sarasota and Manatee, like Visible Men Academy, UnidosNow and libraries to reach kids where they are. “Have steam, will travel,” she laughs. “S.T.E.A.M. is a way of thinking and processing. My godfather and uncles were engineers and I grew up fiddling with all kinds of stuff. S.T.E.A.M. is where the innovation is.”

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