STEM Disconnect Leaves Women, Minorities Behind

STEM Disconnect Leaves Women, Minorities Behind

      By Kelsey Sheehy

June 28, 2012  RSS Feed Print

With 14 million people unemployed but 3 million  STEM—science, technology, engineering, and math—jobs sitting vacant,  it’s clear there is a disconnect between skill and need, one that can’t  be filled solely with white men or engineers from India.

But  half of the students currently graduating with engineering degrees in  the United States are white men, while only 18 percent are women and  even fewer are minorities, Betty Shanahan, CEO of the Society of Women  Engineers, said Thursday at the U.S. News Stem Summit 2012.

“To be competitive, we can’t ignore two thirds of our future workforce,” Shanahan said.

“Women  drop out of engineering programs with higher average grades than the  men who stay in engineering programs,” she added. “In a white  male-dominated environment … they think there’s something wrong with  them, but there is something wrong with the environment.”

[Find out how college women can motivate high school girls interested in STEM.]

To  encourage young women and minority students to power through not just  high school but challenging STEM degree fields in college, employers and  educators need to let go of their “best and brightest” mantra and let  students know it is OK to struggle, she said. A scientist with a C in  physics is still a scientist, after all.

“We  need to celebrate completion as much as achievement,” said Peter  Cunningham, assistant secretary for communication at the U.S. Department  of Education.

To get young women and minority  students started on the STEM path, stakeholders need to show students  STEM is cool, fun, and pays well, Cunningham added.

STEM  also needs to speak their language, both literally and figuratively.  For some girls, that may mean focusing on humanitarian solutions over  robots, said Shanahan with the Society of Women Engineers. For other  students it may mean using materials in their native language.

While  there are an abundance of STEM materials designed to reach minority  students, educators could benefit from some one-stop shopping for STEM  teaching resources, said teachers at the summit.

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