SOUTHFIELD—A chemist by education whose career has turned to firing up young people about the career prospects in the STEAM disciplines has been honored with the third annual John G. Petty Community Champion Award from Lawrence Technological University.
Sibrina N. Collins is executive director of LTU’s Marburger STEM Center, the university’s clearinghouse for K-12 outreach efforts in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), along with architecture and design, the “A” in STEAM.
Collins is a Detroit native who started her higher education path at Highland Park Community College and eventually earned a PhD in inorganic chemistry from The Ohio State University in 2000. She then conducted post-doctoral research at Louisiana State University, followed by working at Claflin University in Orangeburg, S.C., the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the University of Washington, and the College of Wooster, before returning to Detroit as director of education at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History. She joined LTU in 2016. (In the 2017 photo above, Collins is seen working with students at an LTU high school summer science camp.)
While at LTU, she has helped to develop activities involving thousands of K-12 students that inform them about the fun and rewards of a STEM education and careers, with an emphasis on historically under-represented populations. Included are science competitions, summer camps, evening and weekend enrichment
programs, and more, as well as professional development for K-12 educators. She has also published numerous peer-reviewed articles and book chapters on science education, and has made many academic presentations on the topic. She is also currently editing and writing several chapters of a history textbook on African American chemists. And she has recruited and trained current LTU students to serve as Marburger STEM Center Ambassadors, conducting experiments and enrichment programs at K-12 schools in the Detroit area.
The Marburger STEM Center was established through a $20 million donation from former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, and named after LTU President Emeritus Richard Marburger. Ballmer took mathematics courses at LTU while a student at Detroit Country Day School.
Lawrence Tech’s John G. Petty Award honors an individual who is positively impacting the lives of the African-American community, on campus and in the surrounding community. It was created by an LTU student committee as part of the university’s Black History Month observations.
The award is named after John G. Petty, a prominent engineer who earned his mechanical engineering degree from Lawrence Tech in 1965. Petty spent most of his career at defense contractors in the Detroit area, including Williams International and General Dynamics, where he was lead engineer on the innovative turbine engine that powers the U.S. Army’s main battle tank. He was also the Engineering Society of Detroit’s first African American president, and served on both the ESD and LTU boards of trustees for many years.
Petty passed away Jan. 23, 2020. In the 2019 initial ceremony for the award named after him, Petty noted: “There is a lot to be said for LTU. We beat a lot of bigger universities that people think are great.”
Collins, after receiving the award in an online ceremony, said she was “absolutely honored and tremendously humbled” to receive the award. She thanked “the amazing LTU student selection committee, LTU faculty, staff, administrators, and senior leadership for this recognition. I also want to recognize the Marburger STEM Center team… (and) the LTU Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, led by Dr. Caryn Hendon-Reed.”
Collins also thanked “the family of Mr. Petty, who was an incredible leader and engineer, who valued the importance of serving others and the community,” and “my family and friends for supporting me in my chemistry journey, which has not been easy for me.”
Collins offered this advice to young would-be scientists and engineers: “We often tell you to figure your passions and that will help you determine your career path. I want you to reflect a little deeper. Ask yourself, what kind of impact do I want to make in my neighborhood, my community and the world? This will help you determine your passions and your purpose.”
The first two winners of the award were Tiffany D. Brown, a Detroit architect who earned three degrees from LTU and who has founded and worked with several organizations giving under-represented groups the opportunity to learn more about the design professions, and Monique Lake, a veteran high school science teacher and leader in the Michigan engineering community.