STEM is a collective curriculum based on science, technology, engineering and math. STEM education is an interdisciplinary approach that combines facets of each of its corresponding subjects and integrates them into a cohesive learning opportunity. The curriculum for STEM was created to help develop and disseminate comprehension and expertise that typically carry social, economic and personal benefits.
While the idea and benefits of the STEM curriculum are novel, it does not impact each demographic in the same way. For example, in the fields of computer engineering and computer science, there is a substantial disparity between minorities and their counterparts. Of the 5 million employed workers in the computing field, minorities only account for about 30% of employees, and that number includes women as well as ethnic minorities.
Unfortunately, there exists a multitude of impediments that may make post-secondary education and enterprising applications more complicated for underrepresented minorities. A review of available data reveals that minorities are underrepresented at just about any level of education and field of work in STEM fields.
A study conducted in 2017 based on census data shows that black, Latinx and Native Americans constituted 31% of science and engineering professionals. Meanwhile, that demographic only represented 21% of the total bachelor’s degree recipients in science and engineering, and 13% of the total recipients of doctoral degrees. This information helps illustrate the need for more balanced representation among the STEM fields, especially in advanced degree programs.
According to the National Science Board, women represent approximately half of employed college graduates, but only 28% of the employed population working in the science and engineering field.
The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that by 2045 the population will become “minority white.” It is important to address the barriers for underrepresented minorities, as the majority of the workforce is projected to be minority driven by mid-century. Focusing on policy solutions to the needs of the population will become increasingly important, particularly if the U.S. is to compete with foreign countries as skills related to STEM become more necessary.
Biases Faced By Minority College Students in STEM
Minority students may encounter barriers in their college careers, and perhaps even more so specifically in STEM programs. STEM programs and careers tend to have the highest race and gender gaps. Discrepancies in representation alone can create barriers that inhibit students from participating in higher education at optimal levels.
Some common barriers that minority students face in higher education are:
- Social belonging: Minorities may have a hard time associating with STEM culture as the enrollment rate and representation of ethnically diverse groups and genders are not equitable. Associating with different demographics and cultural majorities may feel more challenging for these groups.
- Disparities in affordability: Disparities in wealth can limit accessibility to pay for college. Minority students, particularly those of color, may have to work while attending college in order to afford basic necessities.
- Race gaps in discipline: Ethnic minorities and those from lower economic classes tend to have higher suspension rates than their counterparts. African American students have nearly 5 times the suspension rate of white students.
- Reduced access to advanced placement courses: Academics qualifying as credentials for placement into AP programs are not equal in each school. Minority schools as a whole receive much less funding than their counterparts. Pre-high school academic achievement is also one of the principal considerations of acceptance into these programs. Reduced access to these programs can result in less opportunity to access higher quality courses, fewer resources, and increased post-secondary educational cost, as college credit is not awarded to those not participating in AP courses.
Resources for Minority College Students
Fortunately, there are resources for minorities at most colleges. It is important to learn about these resources before attending college in order to take full advantage of their offerings.
- Minority Serving Institution Program: A federal program that leverages funds from educational departments on behalf of their students. Member institutions must have considerable populations of minority students to qualify.
- Diversity offices: These offices can go by different names depending on the college. They are meant to assist in providing educational and counseling services to their undergraduate minority population. Diversity offices are a great tool to have to help overcome challenges associated with obtaining a degree and overall education.
- Multicultural clubs and organizations: Commonly found across a wide range of colleges, these resources are a great way to network and discuss issues with people who may have similar interests. Examples might include cultural student unions, cultural interest sororities and fraternities, clubs dedicated to cultural interest, and cultural centers aimed at uniting specific demographics.
- Minority statistics: The National Center for Education Statistics provides statistics about the diversity of colleges. Statistics relating to student and faculty diversity are provided for post-secondary educational institutions which may help influence decisions about which college to attend.
- Practical research experience: Internships, summer camps and research funding are opportunities for any of the student populace to apply for. These resources are some of the best ways to help gain experience and facilitate the transition between college and working a job.
- Educational student services: Study halls, tutoring and workshops are available to everyone. Taking advantage of these tools can help form connections and enhance understanding of materials.
Scholarships for Minorities in STEM
There are scholarships targeted toward minorities studying STEM majors. These scholarships are intended to assist the transition of minority students into higher education. It is usually recommended to apply to as many scholarships as possible, as there is no penalty for application. Some great scholarship opportunities include:
- Civil Engineering: ASDSO; $5,000-1,0000, due 03/31/20. Apply online.
- Graduate Engineers: GFSD; $20,000-$26,000, due 11/30/20. Apply online.
- General Engineers: Lockheed Martin; $10,000, due 03/12/20. Apply online.
- General STEM: GCSP; $5,000, due 03/31/20. Apply online.
- Women in STEM: BHW; $3,000, due 04/15/20. Online essay.
- Women in Stem Scholarship List: Contains a detailed list of scholarships specifically for women in STEM.
- Scholarships for African Americans: A compilation of over 50 scholarship opportunities specifically for African Americans.
- Scholarships for Native Alaskan and American Indians: The American Indian College Fund is a collective of scholarship funds designed to designate those of American Indian and Native Alaskan descent financial aid for college.
- Scholarships for Hispanic and Latinx Students: This compilation of scholarship opportunities for Hispanic and Lantinx students includes a variety of both written and video required applications.
- Asian and Pacific Islander Scholarships: This list contains scholarships for male, female, social science and graduates of the API heritage.
The Importance of Diversity in STEM
The STEM workforce consists of nearly 8.6 million workers, and is continuing to grow. Diversity can positively affect STEM education and innovation in a number of ways:
- Problem-solving: Each person brings a diverse set of experiences and perspectives which typically outperform groups of high-ability problem solvers.
- Perspective: Diversity promotes understanding amongst individuals by exposing them to people and their experiences from various walks of life.
- Increased revenue: Companies with diverse management teams produce almost 20% more revenue than their counterparts.
- Innovation: Teams composed of individuals with diverse backgrounds are able to function at higher levels of information processing.