The underrepresentation of minorities in science, technology, engineering and mathematics is an issue that continues to plague our scientific community. Alleviating this disparity requires programs that foster the interest and growth of middle and high school students in STEM areas.
|The underrepresentation of minorities in science, technology, engineering and mathematics is an issue that continues to plague our scientific community.
The underrepresentation of minorities in science, technology, engineering and mathematics is an issue that continues to plague our scientific community. According to the National Science Foundation, of all the doctoral degrees awarded in science and engineering in 2006, 3 percent were earned by African-Americans, 4.9 percent by Hispanics and 0.1 percent by American Indians/Alaska Natives. Several federal agencies, scientific societies and organizations have approached this issue by funding awards to undergraduate and graduate-level students from under-represented backgrounds. As a product of one of these initiatives, I can attest that, beyond removing financial limitations, the programs prepare and encourage the growth of individuals from under-represented backgrounds, making them more competitive. The efforts have produced admirable results, increasing minority representation in government, academic and industry sectors. Unfortunately, such efforts cannot fully eliminate the disparity that exists in STEM areas.
In 2006, the Program for International Student Assessment revealed that high school teens in the U.S. were not competitive in comparison with their peers in other countries in science and math, ranking 17th in science and 24th in math of the 30 countries assessed. The assessment also revealed that African-Americans and Hispanics, on average, scored lower than their Caucasian and Asian counterparts. This assessment illustrates two unsettling points. First, the lack of student competitiveness and literacy in science and math is an issue that pervades race and extends throughout this generation of young people in our country. Second, the disparities in math and science do not start at the college level but much earlier, confirming the need for the implementation of programs that foster the interest and growth of students in these areas.
Alternative Approaches: Shifting Our Focus
Alleviating this disparity requires programs that foster the interest and growth of middle and high school students in STEM areas. An initiative that targets students at this level ensures that they will be equipped with the knowledge and tools required to excel in STEM areas. Shifting our focus to middle and high school students and monitoring their progress secures a steady pipeline of scientists starting from the middle school level up to higher education.
Recruitment and Retention
The strength of such initiatives needs to be the ability to effectively recruit and retain cohorts of students. Recruitment tactics should focus on rescuing those most at risk: under-represented students from disadvantaged backgrounds who are not receiving the funding or attention they need. This will require that programs are accessible and economically feasible to those targeted. Retention of participants relies heavily on the ability of administrators to remain committed to the progress of students and ensuring that the assistance needed for their advancement is provided. Such efforts would create a diverse group of students that serves as a support system for their peers, encouraging the matriculation of the cohort through the program and eventually into college. It also exposes participants to a network of peers nurtured in STEM areas.