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How Can We Increase Minority Representation in STEM Fields?



Many research studies have supported the findings that fewer students of color choose not to pursue degrees and careers in STEM. So many leave science, technology, engineering, and math programs before graduating with those degrees. And those students who persevere in pursuing degrees in STEM fields of study struggle to complete their degrees in four years or drop out of the STEM programs due to frustration because of lack of support (I almost did!).

Although there was an increase in the number of black students pursuing STEM degrees before the end of the 20th century, the number has stalled and declined, especially among black males, according to the National Science Foundation (NSF) Minority STEM Representation is Disappearing — Observatory | Institute for the Future of Education (tec.mx), After Years of Gains, Black STEM Representation Is Falling. Why? (undark.org). Several factors contributed to the decline in the representation of blacks pursuing degrees and careers in STEM. For example, persistent income inequality, the disproportionate lack of access to quality schools among people of color and minority communities, the decline in outreach mentoring programs that target people of color and minority communities and fostering interest in STEM have been driving this decline since the 2000s according to the article After Years of Gains, Black STEM Representation Is Falling. Why? (undark.org. Another contributing factor was the weakening government policy on Affirmative Action.

In light of the shifted landscape of government, private organizations, and various institutions of learning policies on inclusion in STEM fields, could small steps like getting parents involved in STEM activities elevate the importance of degrees and careers in STEM fields in our community? Chris Coia suggested simple steps as visibility and participation through mentoring (as a member of a minority community) goes a long way How Can We Increase Black Representation in STEM Fields? | Diversity in Research. And I agree!

To reverse this trend, we need to double our efforts bringing awareness about the importance of STEM degrees and careers in STEM fields through small actions like parental involvement that encourage parents' participation in STEM activities at the schools, STEM clubs, and afterschool programs. Although we know that we could always count on you (parents) at the elementary school level to be involved. The focus on parent involvement must be at the elementary and also secondary and collegial levels.

I took my son to a track and field meet two weeks ago. Many parents and children were at the track event. I was in awe with the number of participants and the number of us (parents) willing to risk our health and safety in the middle of a pandemic to support our children's extracurricular activities in sports. We need this kind of community involvement and enthusiasm to encourage and cultivate STEM enthusiasm in our community. We need to design our STEM activities to include parents as we do during the parent nights at the elementary and middle school. Middle and elementary school teachers know what I am talking about. Not only for entertainment, getting parents involved in school governance, but also for STEM educational nights through fun activities.

We could name the event father and daughter, mother and son night, or Saturday event, or call it after that tv show hosted by Steve Harvey (family feud)! Wait a minute! What about getting him to host something like this? And if he got too busy (Steve is a busy man), I could host it! After all, I have the passion, enthusiasm, and charisma! (Lol, but seriously!). I could use sponsors. Any serious takers! Hollywood, I hope you are reading this post.

Furthermore, the activity could be as simple as getting parents and children to perform a simple task like acid and base reactions with simple home products or as complex as building robots for competition. Have you seen some of you (parents) with your competitive streak on the track fields?


For example, two weeks ago, parents were asked to participate in the track and field 4X100 relay at my son's track event. You should have seen us (the parents). It was fun to watch us be the admiration of our kids! Parents try out-competing each other and strategizing! I know you still have that competitive streak. It never dies. Oh, I see you dreaming of an opportunity to show what you got! You wouldn't mind competing against your kids who feel they can outrun you! I know you cannot wait to show them you are savvy when it comes to skills in science, technology, engineering, math, and the arts! You are waiting to bust out at seam! Okay, okay, take it easy; the fun and challenge will soon ensue once the STEM community gets some buy-in from all of you (parents).


Author - Dr. Ayo Olufade, STEM Educator, Curriculum/Teaching Specialist in STEM Education, Biotechnologist, and Consultant in STEM Education.

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