Although a U.S. Census Bureau report indicates that minorities will represent the majority of the American population by 2043, these growing groups remain underrepresented in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. Students who stick with these subjects majors and go on to STEM careers have larger salaries — with 25 to 50 percent higher earnings than their peers — but a disparity among minorities in these fields exists.
Minorities, including African Americans, Hispanics, Asians, and American Indians, are struggling to graduate from college. In his 2010 remarks on higher education, President Barack Obama reflected on the state of U.S. graduation rates. “Over a third of America’s college students and over half of our minority students don’t earn a degree, even after six years. So we don’t just need to open the doors of college to more Americans; we need to make sure they stick with it through graduation. That is critical,” the president said.
Yet even minorities who stick through college are vastly underrepresented in key fields that bolster the U.S. economy, including STEM. The National Science Foundation provides a better picture of the disparity among minorities in such fields, revealing in a report that while 69 percent of whites (51 percent of men and 18 percent of women) represented the scientists and engineers working in science and engineering occupations in 2010, just 18 percent of Asians (13 percent of men and 5 percent of women) and 6 percent of Hispanics (4 percent of men and 2 percent of women) were in the same occupations. Only 5 percent of blacks were employed in the same careers.
Earnings and career prospects remain bright for minorities who stick with STEM trajectories. A 2012 study published in Research in Higher Education, which tracked the progress of over 1,000 Latino, African-American, and Asian and Pacific Islander students over the span of nine years found that Latinos reported the highest earnings among STEM majors, according to University of Southern California.
As employers look to fill STEM occupations, educators and leaders are implementing initiatives geared toward preparing minorities for future success in their fields. Here is a closer look at a few nationwide efforts to help close the minority gap in STEM.
‘Geek Speak’ Initiative Draws Minority Students in Arkansas
In an effort to introduce more young minorities to STEM, Vernard Henley, the director of recruitment and outreach at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock’s College of Engineering and Information Technology, came up with a plan to bring in successful minorities in their fields as guest speakers to talk to and inspire underrepresented groups. He calls the series of talks “Geek Speak.”
Each Geek Speak event is free and designed to get many lower-income students caught up with their school curriculums during the summer sessions, he explained to IMT Career Journal. “Even if students don’t enter STEM fields, they will have a better understanding of STEM, which will make them more informed as adults,” Henley explained.
“The purpose of Geek Speak is to show minority students from different grade levels that there are people like them [in STEM],” he explained.
The first round of Geek Speak sessions was led by Darryl Banes, who is African American and the president of the Minority Aviation Education Association’s Interactive Science Programs. He held informative sessions at University of Arkansas’ engineering college and at the local Wakefield Elementary School for students from 5-12 grade levels. He was selected due to his ability to present difficult material in a relatable, “hands-on” approach.
Henley said that he is looking for similar dynamic speakers for upcoming events.
ULSAMP Summer Research Program
Cornell University’s Diversity Programs in Engineering has partnered with the Upstate Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (also known as ULSAMP) to maximize the potential of underrepresented populations — namely African Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans. The National Science Foundation supports the summer research opportunity, which runs from June 2 to Aug. 9.
The program offers the participants a research stipend, campus residence and access to state-of-the-art labs, libraries, and computer lounges. According to Cornell University, the initiative was developed in an effort to bolster minority retention rates in STEM. Each student will also develop a research agenda and pair with a faculty research member, who will guide them through their studies.
AP STEM Access Program
One effort to increase the representation of both minorities and females in STEM is the AP STEM Access Program, an ongoing initiative by The College Board that launched with the help of a $5 million grant award from Google, which was part of the Global Impact Awards to DonorsChoose.org
The program will support public high schools across the country in launching nearly 500 new AP math and science courses, with the goal of helping females and minorities become more exposed to the “rigorous AP STEM course work.” The participating schools, which were announced by Google, DonorsChoose.org, and the College Board in December — are scheduled to begin their new AP STEM courses starting this fall. According to the College Board, the schools that were selected had 10 or more black/African-American, American Indian/Alaska Native, Hispanic/Latino students and/or 25 or more female students with high potential to be successful in one or more AP college-level STEM courses.
“There are hundreds of thousands of talented students in this country who are being left out of the STEM equation, according to Jacquelline Fuller, director Google Giving. “They’re not being given the opportunity to find their passion or pursue today’s most promising career. We’re focused on creating equal access to advanced math and science courses, and ensuring that advanced classrooms become as diverse as the schools themselves.”
Are you involved in a program that aims to attract more minorities to STEM or are you a student who has been involved in such a program? Please share your story in our comments section, below.