STEM, Music and God’s Grace
Roy Moye III is an aerospace engineer who is changing the landscape of underrepresentation in STEM fields one song at a time.
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Roy Moye III is an aerospace engineer and singer-songwriter who wants to change the landscape of underrepresentation in STEM fields through music. Growing up he didn’t see a lot of people who looked like him in STEM, but while that didn’t stop him from being the first in his family to pursue a career in STEM, he knows that this is a barrier countless people of color face. He credits God’s grace as getting him through his studies and some of the most challenging seasons of his life. Now he’s sharing the gift of grace he’s received with others, breaking down barriers one song at a time through a science communication and outreach organization he founded called STEMusic.
Roy believes that “music is a powerful, emotional, and engaging tool that can help us remember things, because it attaches us to our life experiences.” He remembers he first discovered this truth about music when he was in college studying for an engineering exam. He recalls being overwhelmed in a materials engineering class with all the new information he was learning, from things like material deformation and crack growth, to propagation and creep. It was hard to keep everything straight, but in the midst of what might’ve been an opportunity for discouragement to set in, he unexpectedly found himself turning to music. Humming the tune to a popular R&B song, he rewrote the lyrics to reflect what he was learning about in his material science class. He ended up acing the exam.
Not only has Roy experienced the benefits of music in STEM education for himself, but he has also seen it make a positive impact on students he’s mentored over the years as well. One year when he was volunteering for Real Men Real Heroes, a youth mentoring organization, he used music to teach algebra. He rewrote the lyrics to a song the kids loved called “Watch Me (Whip / Nae Nae),” changing the chorus to, “Watch me solve these equations!” He says, “The students loved it…they were so excited about doing math. I saw young Black and Brown boys from 3rd to 5th grade were running up to the white board to solve equations and it blew my mind. I said wow, look at how this is changing the narrative of math in the eyes of these students. I said to myself, I have to do something with this, I must, and I did.” It was moments like these that ultimately inspired him to start STEMusic.
“STEM changed my life…In my community we are so often told that you need to make it in music, in sports, in order to make it out, but that’s not the whole truth. I’m always going to encourage a student to work really hard and pursue those things, but I also want to share that, hey, there’s this whole other world of opportunity out here…[that can]…literally, transform your life.”
Singing about STEM
These days, Roy writes his own music and leads science outreach events at schools across the country. His songs range from R&B and Latin in style, to Gospel inspired from his church upbringing, filled with soulful vocals and beats that get students moving. He loves being able to be himself and bring his own music style to STEM outreach, but for a while he was very insecure about even starting. “I wanted to make songs that I could see myself singing to my niece. I wanted to sing STEM songs in the same style I sing Gospel music, especially for Black and Brown kids, I wanted to sing about STEM in a style of music that they listened to growing up. I had this idea for a while, but I was just too insecure to carry it out.” Making it as a top 20 finalist on Sunday’s Best, an American Idol style gospel singing competition, gave him the courage he needed to finally do it.
Recently, one of his songs, Black Lives Made STEM History was on an album that was nominated for a Grammy. He says the inspiration behind the song was that he wanted people to know there were more Black historical figures in STEM beyond just George Washington Carver. The lyrics say, “From Mae Jemison to Dr. Shirley Jackson, Garett Morgan, Lewis Latimer and Herman Branson Black minds really revolutionized STEM, that’s why it’s so important that we gotta know them.”
Another one of his songs explores the topic of math in a way that he hopes will change negative perceptions about the subject. In the song he draws on his own love-hate relationship with math over the years singing, “Me and math haven’t really been friends, but that’s not how this story ends.” He hopes that the honesty in his music will resonate with others and help empower the next generation to pursue STEM as a career.
…students actually have a better overall understanding and higher levels of comprehension when learning about a topic through song.
Research backs up Roy’s experience with music as an effective educational tool. Roy cites a study published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology “Can Music Foster Learning – Effects of Different Text Modalities on Learning and Information Retrieval.” The authors mention that “students actually have a better overall understanding and higher levels of comprehension when learning about a topic through song.” Roy knows from first hand experience that music not only can help students learn, but, especially for students of color, it can be a vehicle to offer STEM as a viable life changing career option that is both personally fulfilling, socially impactful, and economically beneficial.
“When I think about science and engineering, I believe that God not only supplied us with raw materials and natural resources, but also…he supplied us with beautiful minds. He knows the end from the beginning…I suppose this outlook led me through the world of STEM without an intense push and pull about whether faith and science can exist together, they just come together for me.”
“STEM changed my life. I think it’s amazing because you get to have access to create incredible products, and lead advancements in the industry, but also from the economic standpoint of Black and Brown communities, it really can transform your life. In my community we are so often told that you need to make it in music, in sports, in order to make it out, but that’s not the whole truth. I’m always going to encourage a student to work really hard and pursue those things, but I also want to share that, hey, there’s this whole other world of opportunity out here, where you could go to school from four to six years, and literally, transform your life.” He shared that his career in aerospace engineering allowed him to fund his music over the years and even support his family financially.
Faith is also an important part of Roy’s story. He never really saw a conflict between his faith and STEM studies. It just seemed very natural to him for everything to point back to God, and that the natural world and our ability to study it were a gift from God. “When I think about science and engineering, I believe that God not only supplied us with raw materials and natural resources, but also through the beings that he created, he supplied us with beautiful minds. He knows the end from the beginning. He knew that Einstein was gonna be a thing, George Washington Carver, Lonnie Johnson with his Super Soaker invention…he knew all this stuff was gonna happen. I suppose this outlook led me through the world of STEM without an intense push and pull about whether faith and science can exist together, they just come together for me.”
Despite not experiencing direct conflict between faith and STEM, that didn’t prevent him from having his own moments of faith crises and doubts over the years. At one point he planned to leave the church altogether, he credits God’s grace as getting him through some of the toughest seasons of his life, including challenging parts of his engineering studies.
“God’s grace was so prominent…his grace was carrying me…he had the right engineers around me, people who would be able to support me in my journey.”
It might come as a surprise to learn that Roy didn’t always consider himself good at STEM, and that he actually hated math. He loved solving problems, but more so by looking for creative solutions rather than just hard math and science alone. At times he couldn’t help but feel that he was the odd ball in the room, because his mind seemed to work differently than a traditional engineer’s mind. But once more he credit’s God’s grace in carrying him through his STEM journey, leading him to the right people at the right time.: “God’s grace was so prominent…his grace was carrying me…he had the right engineers around me, people who would be able to support me in my journey.” Through the work that he does in STEM outreach, Roy is giving back the gift of grace he has received, inspiring the next generation of STEM professionals.
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Roy Moye III
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