How to Encourage Latinas to Pursue Work in STEM Fields

As the U.S Department of Education reports, 12 percent of graduates with Associate’s Degree between 2009 and 2010 were Hispanic, and only 3 percent of Doctoral graduates were Hispanic. In other words, as the degree went higher, less and less Hispanic students tended to pursue that advanced education.

STEM potential

Hispanic students also tend to score lower than the national average in Math and Science achievement tests. As the largest minority in the public education system, Hispanic students have the potential to make up a large portion of future STEM graduates. But if they are not exposed to a strong STEM K-12 education, many of these students may not believe they are competitive enough to pursue STEM fields.

By exposing students to STEM fields early on in their educational career, they can visualize themselves as future STEM professionals and become aware of the opportunities in STEM. For example, there are several PhD programs that will fund a student’s higher education allowing them to graduate without debt. Beyond that, there are also companies that will invest in employee education and help fund their graduate degrees.

Creating awareness

However, many students and their families are not aware these opportunities exist. This is why organizations such as Latinas in STEM, Technolochicas, Hispanic Scholarship Fund and countless others organizations that support Hispanics in STEM are critical supplements to standard K-12 education. Their outreach efforts support and empower Hispanic students and their families to visualize pursuing higher education and a successful career by providing the knowledge to make informed decision about their futures.

 

Science, technology, engineering and math are at the heart of the current economy. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that between 2012 to 2022 STEM occupations will grow approximately 13 percent, to more than nine million jobs. The increasing demand for STEM-skilled professionals is a global trend, with billions of dollars being spent on STEM education and programs. Over the past decade, the percentage of college-educated women has overtaken that of men. Despite this, women continue to hold less than 25 percent of STEM jobs.

Correcting the difference

There is also a sharp disconnect between industries; 96 percent of Chief Academic Officers feel they have prepared students for the workforce, yet only 11 percent of business leaders agree. These statistics demonstrate an opportunity for education and industry to collaborate, redesign and establish a system that supports STEM education and workforce preparation. This process of bridging the gap will require the alliance of multiple stakeholders in STEM education: academic institutions, companies, non-profits, policy organizations and government entities.

Our focus must be on the entire pipeline, from kindergarten through careers. Our emphasis must be on the retention and recruitment of diverse talent. Mentoring, internships, apprenticeships, peer support, interdisciplinary approaches to teaching and course redesign are all valuable solutions to advancing girls’ and women’s engagement in STEM. Hands-on STEM experiences empower girls and women to impact their communities. Projects demanding innovative solutions instill in them the skills and competencies that companies demand. In addition to experiential learning opportunities, providing women currently in the STEM workforce with the necessary support –mentoring, sponsorship, and work-life balance – can increase retention in STEM careers.

The power of adaptation

The pervasiveness of technology and the trend towards STEM skills becoming vital to non-STEM careers are key factors of interest in STEM. A recent Burning Glass Technologies report found that more than 82 percent of middle-skill jobs require digital skills. Furthermore, digital skills are providing career pathways to high-skill jobs that can place workers in the top quartile of all earners. The economic opportunities afforded by STEM careers are tremendous, and the ability to increase the earning potential of women offers the chance to bridge the gender pay gap.

We can meet the training and educational needs of a diverse global STEM workforce with collaborative efforts across sectors. STEM and diversity are integral to the sustainability of our schools, the innovation our businesses, the prosperity of communities and the global competitiveness of our economies. We must take intentional action if we do not want to be left behind.