PISCATAWAY, NJ—On the basketball court, Rutgers senior Myles Johnson is known as one of the Big Ten’s most fearsome shot blockers.
Off the hardwood, however, he is striving to make a difference in the lives of Black youth through BLKdev, an organization which encourages minorities to enter the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).
Johnson, an electrical and computer engineering major, says he was inspired to create this resource after seeing a lack of representation of people of color in his engineering classes, pointing out that he can count the number of Black classmates on one hand and that he has never had a Black professor for an engineering class.
“My mother and I had a conversation one night while getting sushi,” he said. “She asked about life post basketball what my mark on the world would be. It really made me think deeper, beyond just thinking about myself.”
Johnson said he spoke with a few other Black classmates at Rutgers who agreed that change was needed.
“Within a week, I had done research on creating a non-profit organization with the idea of getting more black people into the field of STEM,” he said.
With their help, he contacted various diversity departments, human resource managers, as well as the National Society of Black Engineers about ways to provide resources to young people interested in STEM.
He founded the website to provide resources to young people interested in the STEM fields.
“I created our website with hopes that it will provide various avenues of information about resources for Black Youth to learn more about STEM,” said Johnson.
The site includes educational resources, scholarships, Black STEM news, as well as a collection of stories of Black STEM students and professionals aimed at inspiring the younger generation.
He said he hopes that in the future BLKdev can also host hands-on STEM activities for local youth.
Johnson, who has been profiled in a commercial for the Big Ten Network and was also featured in a BTN segment called “The Journey,” has seen how his stature as a college athlete provides a tremendous platform for his cause.
“Being a college athlete at a major school like Rutgers comes with a lot of social capital,” Johnson said.
“This capital has helped spread the word about my organization and cause. This amount of attention in such a short time frame would be extremely difficult for the average college student, so I’m happy I’ve had a lot of positive responses from everyone, including Rutgers alumni and the Big Ten itself.”
Social media is a big part of the plan to grow BLKdev, said Johnson, whose girlfriend Jabria Baylor, a student in the School of Communication & Information at Rutgers, helps with publicizing content for the website and digital media.
“As of now, we try to utilize social media as much as possible, by being on many platforms,” said Johnson. BLKdev can be found on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
Johnson, whose father is an electrical engineer for the Los Angeles Unified School District, said his love of science and engineering began at a young age, as he loved to play with Legos and participated in extra-curricular activities such as “Saturday science,” which provided him with a weekly dose of STEM activities and experiments.
He said his decision to attend Rutgers had as much to do with the university’s engineering school as it did its basketball program.
“I made it well known that if I go to your school, I want to go for engineering,” Johnson told the Big Ten Network in “The Journey.”
His dad, Rick, told BTN that it was the draw of the engineering program that brought Johnson from Southern California to the East Coast, as he decided on Rutgers before even meeting with the basketball team.
“He said, ‘Dad, this is where I want to be,’” Rick Johnson said.
Myles Johnson is now encouraging other young people to embrace the wide range of possibilities offered through STEM education.
“The world of opportunities is never-ending with the broad reach of STEM,” Johnson said through the website. “I would tell STEM students not to shy away from classes that are ‘difficult.’ I learned a lot of valuable skills from classes that people said were ‘too hard.’”
Like many of his Scarlet Knights teammates, social justice is an important issue to the 6’11″ senior.
In their first game against Sacred Heart, the Scarlet Knights players took a knee during the national anthem. Their uniforms also include a patch of black and white hands clasped together, with the words “Better Together.”
Johnson said he is happy that, regardless of race, the members of the team share the same opinions on what needs to be done in regard to social justice.
After their stellar 2019-2020 season was cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Rutgers men’s basketball team is determined to make the NCAA tournament this season and has been ranked as high as #11 nationally early in the campaign.
Johnson, a two-time Big Ten All Academic nominee, leads the team in rebounding and blocked shots this season.
After college, the senior student athlete said he would like to return to California to work in Silicon Valley. He recently announced on his personal Twitter account that he has accepted an internship at IBM as a firmware developer.