Across the United States the gap between whites and people of color working in science, technology, engineering and math education (STEM) is significant. Blacks are 9% of the STEM workforce, smaller than their 11% share of U.S. workers and are only 5% of those in engineering and architecture, 6% in life and physical science jobs. Hispanic workers represent just 8% of the STEM workforce, while being 17% of all employed.
Roughly 20% of whites and students of color declare STEM subjects as their majors entering college, but nearly 40% of minority students change their majors and more than 20% leave school without earning a degree. As a result, while Blacks, Native Americans, Alaska Natives and Hispanics collectively form 27% of the population, they account for only 11% of America’s science and engineering workers. It is imperative that we raise awareness of the benefits of STEM if we ever want America to be a just and equal society. The good-paying jobs of today and tomorrow are in STEM. There must be a “Reckoning on STEM” before there can be transformational change in this country that addresses wealth, education, health and employment disparities. This is why our society needs STEM education in the fight against racial inequities.
STEM education has implicit and sometimes explicit goals of being a counteracting force against racialized injustice. This is what fuels STEM Global Action, a network and campaign that is pursuing the advancement of science, technology, engineering and math education for children, parents and communities. SGA prioritizes raising awareness of the benefits of STEM education and providing STEM learning opportunities to K-12 students in low-income and communities of color to address societal inequities by creating pathways to quality jobs and careers.
In 2013, I founded STEM NOLA, a New Orleans-based, non-profit committed to bringing STEM education to area neighborhoods and communities at churches, community centers and schools. STEM NOLA has impacted more than 70,000 students, 17,000 families and 2,150 schools across the United States and in five other countries.
10 Reasons Why Stem Education Can Fight Against Racial Inequality
BETTER CAREER OPPORTUNITIES
The economic advantages of STEM careers are more rewarding. According to a study conducted by Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, approximately 65 percent of wage earners with Bachelors’ degrees in STEM fields earned more than Master’s degrees employees in non-STEM occupations. The wage difference is so significant that 47 percent of Bachelor’s degrees in STEM occupations earn more than PhDs in non-STEM careers (usnews.com).
We can help stabilize communities by positioning young people of color for careers in STEM so they will be better able to financially support their families.
CONTRIBUTE TO SOCIETY
STEM education can help people of color contribute to a society no longer diminished by inequities. Once lifted out of low-income communities because of their STEM education, people of color are more apt to return to and uplift their communities and the people in them.
IMAGINE FUTURE POSSIBILITIES
STEM education in the lives of racially minoritized children in the United States can help them boldly imagine future possibilities. In the 21st century our children will have one of three options, to take something, make something or break something. If we don't give them the skills, the education and the inspiration to make something-- make a living, make a life, make a difference-- that leaves them with the options we see on the news every night to take and to break. We don't want that, so we have to show them better possibilities for their future.
ROLE MODELS FOR NEXT GENERATION
Black and Brown children need resources in their community where they can begin learning STEM skills at an early age. But they also need role models, people that look like them (or not) who they can communicate with about the challenges they face in learning STEM. They need role models to help them envision what a STEM career can be.
BECOME CREATORS & NOT CONSUMERS
African Americana spend a tremendous amount of money on technology like iPads and game consoles, making us more of consumers rather than inventors. African Americans hail from a long line of inventors and having an understanding of the algorithms and circuits that make technology work that will make more inventors. Just as these great inventions by Garrett Morgan and George Washington Carver revolutionized millions of lives many years ago, STEM education also has the potential to enhance the lives of future generations.
COMPETE IN A GLOBAL SOCIETY
By creating a cradle to career pipeline with STEM Education, our children can have all the skills necessary to not only compete in their community but compete with the world.
COMPETE AGAINST AUTOMATION AND ROBOTICS
We need to train our child from the neck up and not the neck down. If we train them from the neck down, their competition will be the automatic machine. We have to make sure we train them from the neck up, so they can control the machines and the machine does not control them.
CREATE WORLD CHANGERS
Our most pressing challenges — from climate change, to health, to economic growth — and our most potent opportunities require problem-solving skills rooted in STEM. Ten of the top 14 fastest-growing industries require some kind of STEM training. Yet according to a team led by Raj Chetty, a Harvard economist and director of Opportunity Insights, we’re losing innovators and their breakthroughs every day, because people who could “have had highly impactful innovations” aren’t being given the opportunities they deserve.
STEM education is quite literally a matter of life and death. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, Black patients fare better when treated by Black doctors and nurses, as documented in a 2018 Stanford Health Policy article. Only 5% of doctors nationwide are Black, and only 2% are Black women. Among the many causes of the inequitable health outcomes from the pandemic that cut along race lines, this is certainly one of them.
Written by Dr. Mackie, founder of STEM Global Action and STEM NOLA. He holds Bachelor of Science degrees in Mathematics and Mechanical Engineering (Morehouse College), as well as a Master’s and Ph.D. (Georgia Tech). He is also a former tenured Professor of Engineering at Tulane University.