Breaking STEM stereotypes to students, raising scores is a challenge for higher education

STEM-science-hispanicsThe teenager crossed her fingers. The dark pellet was supposed to levitate. Like magic, it floated an inch into the air.

Cruz Alvarado, 16, smiled. Her science experiment worked. The pellet, a superconductor Cruz created, rose when the professor poured liquid nitrogen near it.

“I think it’s pretty cool,” Alvarado, a junior at Meadowcreek High School in Gwinnett County, said afterward. On this day Alvarado was the one conducting the test, but she’s part of an experiment, too, one designed to get more Hispanic students interested in science, math, engineering and technology, taught in what are called STEM courses.

Across the state and nationally, educators and politicians from President Obama to Gov. Nathan Deal have talked about the need for students versed in those fields because they’re high-income professions and industries that are producing more jobs.

But recruiting Hispanic students to study these subjects has been difficult because they lag their peers in math and science competency, according to state scores, and sometimes arrive to college not ready for the rigorous course work. Another problem, some officials say, is breaking stereotypes to encourage students that, yes, there are Hispanic scientists and engineers and they can be one too.

Many Hispanic students have had little exposure to some STEM fields and their high schools don’t have the financial resources to allow students to conduct research and experiments that may pique their interest. Georgia’s Hispanic population continues to grow, with grade school enrollment increasing by nearly 100,000 students between 2000 and 2010, more than any other group, in 20 counties that surround Atlanta, according to a May 2013 Atlanta Regional Commission report.

(Next page: Addressing the STEM problem)


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