Competitions, experiments a focus in inspiring low-income students to embrace STEM
California schools are using various methods to not only get low-income and diverse high school students interested in STEM subject areas, but to increase the odds they'll actually get a STEM-related degree and wind up working in one of those fields. In schools located a short distance from Silicon Valley, less than 5% of tech professionals are Hispanic, and just over 2% are African American. Interestingly, 57% of students in the area weren't born in the U.S.; most came from China or India.
One charter school, Downtown College Prep (DCP) Alum Rock High, leverages motivational tactics, such as competitions to increase STEM interest. A team of students became part of the Quest for Space program, through which astronauts on the International Space Station used an experiment they designed.
Partnerships with non-profits, such as Genesys Works, create part-time or school-holiday internships. Students shadow tech workers to gain insight into what types of jobs are out there.
First-generation, college-bound Hispanic students in California too often don't see a clear pathway to a high-tech career (despite so many of them living less than 15 miles from Google headquarters). Their parents often don't have the personal experience or knowledge to help them navigate the college application and job search process. Part of the problem is the high student to counselor ratio caused by budget cuts in many California schools. Guidance counselors don’t have enough time in their day to properly counsel and work with students who may not have the benefit of parents who both "know the ropes" and have enough job flexibility to be able to invest time in helping their students get on the road to a successful tech career.
Programs, like those at DCP are not just about getting oneself into a lucrative, high-demand field. The emphasis is also on helping others. One group of students built a tiny house for a homeless person, a process which included scouting out and securing the property.
But students that don't take an interest in STEM in high school are unlikely to pursue such a pathway in college. The dearth of low-income students in STEM majors “terrifies” Andrew Moore, the dean of Carnegie Mellon’s School of Computer Science, reported U.S. News & World Report. The crux of the crisis is that, overwhelming, wealthier suburban high schools are the only ones that can offer students the high-level math and science classes that are essentially prerequisites to majoring in a STEM field in college. Some universities are trying to find a workaround to end the cycle, creating special programs for low-income and minority students. In some cases, students dorm together and take specific courses built around their needs, while others are afforded online computer science masters degrees.
Dartmouth University leaders, on the other hand, says they don’t have a socioeconomic diversity problem to nearly the same extent in their STEM programs. As a matter of fact, first-generation students are over-represented in the STEM majors there. Also, 54% of graduates from their engineering school are women.
- The Hechinger Report How Silicon Valley schools are trying to boost lower income students into high tech jobs
- U.S. News & World Report Low-income students nowhere to be found in STEM