Written By: Gary Warth 29/06/15
The focus on STEM studies is not new, but some of the nation’s brightest minds in research, education and government have converged on San Diego to discuss how to create pathways for more women and minorities into those fields.
The annual U.S. News STEM Solutions conference is bringing together 1,500 professionals to learn about strategies for promoting science, technology, engineering and math education.
The gathering began four years ago as a way of connecting technology business leaders in need of employees with schools that teach those disciplines, said U.S. News and World Report Editor Brian Kelly.
“We started looking at job statistics for STEM jobs and said, ‘This is not lining up right,’ ” Kelly said at the conference, which kicked off Monday and runs through Wednesday at the Manchester Grand Hyatt in downtown San Diego. “There’s too many educators who don’t focus on STEM jobs, and we’ve got companies saying, ‘We’re not filling STEM jobs.’ ”
The focus of this year’s conference is on creating greater diversity in the STEM workforce. On Monday, keynote speakers included U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez, California State University Chancellor Timothy White, Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities President Antonio Flores and United Negro College Fund President and CEO Michael Lomax.
Ocean Discovery Institute, which has brought science education programs to students in City Heights since 2001, is a partner at this year’s conference, which is in San Diego for the first time.
Several speakers in the first afternoon session stressed that businesses can do their part in creating engineers and scientists by giving young students role models.
Lomax said that although he was not underprivileged when growing up, he did not meet a black person with a Ph.D. in chemistry or math until he attended Morehouse College, a historically black college in Atlanta.
“We’re telling young people that STEM matters, but not showing them that they can be a part of it,” he said. “This is a critical issue. How can we show them examples?”
Lomax said that school counselors used to advise minority students to take gardening courses, wood shop and electrical shop, and girls were encouraged to take sewing and cooking.
Wanda Austin, president and CEO of the Aerospace Corp., also said one of the biggest challenges in STEM is finding role models for women and minorities.
“People need to see people who look like them,” she said.
White said the CSU system graduates about 15,000 to 20,000 from STEM programs each year, and he credits the high success rate to undergraduate research programs that engage students and ignites interests.
“We do a lot and it makes a huge difference,” he said. “We’re trying to invest more and more of our resources into those experiences. They’re not cheap, but it’s important.”
White also said the federal government should do more to bring more minority students to the field by increasing Pell Grants to help students pay for college. He also credited programs, such as ones that exist in San Diego and Long Beach, that guarantee college admission to students who keep up their grades.
“Take away the betrayal, where they do everything they think is right, and they find out there’s no room at the end,” he said.
Kelly said there has been progress in getting more American students interested in STEM, but much of that progress has been with white males and Asians.
Diversity in the field became an issue only a few years ago when reports on the industry found top technology companies had a low percent of female employees, he said.
According to some reports, only 18 percent of engineering students in college are female.
Source: The San Diego Union-Tribute http://www.utsandiego.com/news/2015/jun/29/conference-focused-on-diversifying-job-rich-stem/