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Increase diversity in STEM industries

first_imgA recent article from the USC News website highlighted a nonprofit mentorship program entitled Teens Exploring Technology, which is making great strides in inspiring young minority males to pursue careers in technology. It has technology and coding programs, some of which meet at USC over the summer, which aim to teach young men the leadership, professional and interpersonal skills needed to succeed as adults.What is so incredible about a program like this is that it is the notable absence of minorities in STEM fields. The STEM field is made up of a disproportionate amount of white and Asian males compared to minority males and women of all races. Women make up nearly half the workforce, but have just 26 percent of science, technology, engineering or math jobs, according to the Census Bureau. Furthermore, African Americans make up 11 percent of the workforce, but just 6 percent of such jobs, and Hispanics make up nearly 15 percent of the workforce, but hold 7 percent of those positions. One possible reason for this huge gender and racial gap in technology and engineering fields is the harsh stereotypes that prevent minorities and women from wanting to enter the field, as well as having access to an education that would provide them with the skills necessary to do so. Even those who are able to enter the field lack the proper mentorship and role models to look up to, which results in many choosing to leave the profession more often than their white and Asian male counterparts. One of the challenges faced by many lower-income African Americans and Hispanics is their limited access to a good education. A recent study showed that over half of Hispanic 4-year-olds are not enrolled in any preschool classes. While more than 60 percent of black 4-year-olds are enrolled, most of them are in programs of low quality. Some of this limited access to a quality education stems from entrenched stereotypes about who does well in science and math in classrooms. Too many teachers give up too easily on them simply because they are not expected to do as well as white students. Moreover, boys are more likely to spend more time in the community, with their peers, which leaves them more open to involvement in things like gang violence, another hindrance to education. Despite those challenges, many minorities still enroll in science and math programs in college, but fewer of them earn a degree in those programs within five years — 22.1 percent for Hispanics and 18.4 percent for blacks — than whites (33 percent) and Asians (42 percent), according to a study by researchers at UCLA. Many of those who leave are simply ill-prepared for the rigors of college-level math and science. Others feel socially unwelcome because they make up a tiny minority in largely white and Asian science and engineering departments. These negative stereotypes not only affect minorities’ entrance into the STEM field, but women’s as well. According to Ariane Hegewisch, a director for the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, young girls do not get as much of an opportunity to use computers as boys do in elementary schools. When making choices about their majors and careers, many young women rule out engineering and computer science partly because they are uninterested, feel ill-prepared for them or because society tends to identify the STEM field as male-dominated. Women who pursue careers in the STEM field are much more likely to leave the profession than men. Furthermore, the women who graduate with degrees in engineering and computer science are less likely to be employed than men.In many cases, women seem to have internalized society’s belief that they are incapable of mastering these fields as well as men. Psychologists from Stanford University, among other scholars, have found that female students who are made to believe that math ability is innate have lower scores and are less likely to study math than girls who believe that math skills can be acquired through hard work. Another study showed that “female college students got more questions right on math tests when they were told beforehand that ‘college students are good at math’ than when they were told ‘women are bad at math,’” which suggests stereotypes undermine women’s performance.The lack of minorities and women in the STEM field is largely due to negative stereotypes that discourage these populations from entering technology and engineering professions. These stereotypes inhibit students’ academic achievements and educational opportunities to succeed.Improving the representation of women and minorities would enrich American scientific research and development, because they will add a different perspective to workplaces currently dominated by white and Asian men.Julia Lawler is a senior majoring  in history and social science education. Her column, “Get Schooled,” runs Fridays.last_img read more