A Look at the STEM Field and Diversity

The field of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) is a rapidly growing field. As the world become increasing reliant on technology, it becomes ever more important that people work to maintain these technologies and improve on them. According to a study conducted by the Pew Research Center, “since 1990, STEM employment has grown 79%,” totaling to about 17.3 million STEM related jobs (Funk & Parker).

As a science teacher, this sounds great! The world is more in need of science and scientists than ever. However, as the field grows, it’s important that we ensure that STEM is not dominated by one voice or one group of people. We need to make sure that there is diversity in thought as we continue the ongoing journey of uncovering the universes mysteries.

That being said, what is the status of minority groups in the STEM field in the U.S.? Well, you may be surprised to learn is that according to that same Pew Research Center article “women make up half of all U.S. workers in STEM occupations” (Funk & Parker). Once again, this sounds great! Women make up about half of the United State’s population, so it makes sense that they make up half of one of the fastest growing occupational fields. But we have to take a closer look at these statistics to really understand them.

In the specific occupational groups of STEM there’s actually a huge disparity in the presence of women. Funk and Parker state that, “Women account for the majority of healthcare practitioners and technicians,” but we see much less representations in other STEM jobs such as computer programmers and engineers.

A lack of diversity in race can be seen more blatantly from the statistics. The Article states that “blacks make up…9% of STEM workers” and “hispanics…only 7% of all STEM workers” (Funk & Parker). These numbers make it pretty hard to argue that all races are equally represented in the STEM field.

So What Can We Do?

The best way to increase diversity in the STEM field is to start from the beginning. Meaning, that we need to encourage women and minority children and students to pursue careers in STEM. It’s pretty rare that people start down a career path and then switch into a STEM career, so it’s important that we get kids excited about STEM jobs. So how do we that?

Well, as a future educator of America, I think that school is the best place to build a love for STEM. The best way to do this is to make school and science interesting. Too many students become disenfranchised with STEM because they spend too much time in dull lifeless classrooms.

There are so many ways we can do this. We can allow students to follow their curiosity. We can use opportunities to get out of the classroom. We can connect science to other content areas. But I think in this case the most effective method is to emphasize the creative aspect of the STEM field.

Few people realize that STEM occupations require creativity. All of these jobs require problems solving, and in many cases they are problems that didn’t exist just a few years ago. So students should be designing, developing and creating more in STEM classrooms. Rather just reading the answers to problems out of a textbook, students should be making their own answers.

I believe it is this creativity that will interest people in the STEM field. A lot people believe that science is stagnant. That one day some one thought of the laws of thermodynamics and they just were the truth from then until the end of time. In reality, science is constantly changing, shifting and growing on itself. We need to show students that they can be a part of this ever changing and growing field.

Another way to encourage students of minority groups to pursue jobs in the STEM field is to provide with role models. STEM has been dominated by white men for a long time, so many of the scientist we talk about are just that. So it is important to infuse minority scientist stories into classrooms. For example, the first black woman in space, Mae C. Jemison, is a great example. She studied to be a doctor, but also worked with NASA and became an astronaut. She would be a great role model to show students all that they can do in the STEM field.

Picture of Mae C. Jemison, in her astronaut suit. Taken a few months before launching into space.
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