The need for more scientists and engineers is a persistent issue plaguing industries throughout the United States, but efforts to prioritize STEM in schools might be falling short when it comes to representation of people of color, according to a University of Missouri researcher.
The National Science Foundation reports that women of color constitute fewer than 1 in 10 employed scientists and engineers. And the women of color who are in STEM aren’t necessarily seeing their identities reflected and incorporated in STEM fields.
“Imagine walking into a lab or a classroom and seeing pictures of people on the walls that are nothing like you,” says Terrell Morton, the Preparing Future Faculty postdoctoral fellow at the University of Missouri. “People have a very narrow view of what science looks like, and right now, its older white men wearing goggles and holding beakers. When a young woman of color sees those images in a learning environment, it can make her feel unwelcome because there is nothing in that image that represents her.”
Morton believes educators can help support women of color pursuing STEM degrees by creating inclusive classroom environments and prioritizing activities that intentionally and meaningfully incorporate students’ personal identities and experiences.
A few examples include:
- Being mindful of the readings used, problems investigated, solutions generated in courses and whose voice(s) and communities are and are not represented
- Asking students to share their stories, backgrounds and goals with the class. This encourages community support and helps all students succeed
- Provide diverse historical and contemporary role models (their background and their work) in STEM classes through case studies, stories, films, guest speakers and class instruction
- Morton interviewed 10 black women in STEM programs at two southeastern universities to hear their experiences of pursuing a degree in a field that is overwhelmingly white and male. Morton found that despite many alienating and isolating classroom experiences in pursuit of their degrees, all of the black women in the study firmly wanted to continue in the field