The lack of underrepresented minorities in STEM

Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (aka STEM) represent the fields in which the U.S. continues slip in their ranking worldwide. These fields are crucial for the U.S. to remain competitive in an increasingly global market. Workers in these fields spur innovation, have very stable job security. Students in these fields earn more money than non-STEM graduates. Indeed, improved STEM education is a priority of the Obama administration.

Despite the benefits of pursuing study in these areas, underrepresented minorities (URMs)—African Americans, Hispanics, and Native Americans—represent less than 10% of college graduates working in science and engineering occupations. The number of minorities majoring in these fields is slowly climbing. Yet, even after graduating with a degree in STEM, URM these are less likely to eventually go on and pursue jobs in these fields compared to non-URM STEM graduates.

Recently, Forbes showcased a list of people under 30 who are standouts in various fields including science and technology. Notably missing in the science and technology lists, totaling 60 people, were URMs. In fact, not one URM was on the list. By comparison, another group underrepresented in STEM fields, women, comprised 11 of the 60 standouts. While no proxy for the URMs in STEM fields or jobs in the real world, it means that minorities have a long way to go to be members, let alone standouts, in the science and technology.

The lack of diversity in the sciences is not a new problem, but we do live in a time where technology could help bridge the gap. A number of successful solutions (pipeline programs, traditional mentoring programs, and minority-focused science and technology organizations) lack accessibility to a wider audience. Social support is the common thread of these solutions. Although narrow in appreciation of the complexity of the problem, the solutions proposed by Gene Marks in his recent article provocatively titled, “If I was a Poor Black Kid,” are a step in the right direction. In order to expand their conception of what is possible with a career in science and to maintain the interest of minority youth we need technology that improves their social network.

Such efforts will help dispel the stereotypes that minorities can only succeed in the world of athletics or entertainment. In stark contrast to the lack of minorities in Forbes 30 under 30 science and technology lists, 11 minorities were included in their entertainment and music lists. Unfortunately, the amount of people who make adequate earnings in athletics and entertainment is limited. The STEM fields are one of the few areas where there is job growth. If the opportunity to engage URMs in this renewed focus on the STEM fields is not capitalized, minorities in the U.S. risk further economic inequality.

Kunmi Sobowale is a medical student.

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