Creating a Sustainable Commitment to STEM

Panelists discuss the need for more gender and ethnic diversity in STEM jobs.

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How do you motivate kids to want to be engineers or scientists when they grow up? How, in particular, do you get women and ethnic minorities involved? How can children understand that STEM subjects in the classroom can translate into fulfilling careers? 

These question were discussed in the “Creating a Sustainable Commitment to STEM” session at U.S. News & World Report's STEM Solutions Conference Wednesday in Washington, D.C.

The session was moderated by Christopher Roe, CEO of the California STEM Learning Network. Speakers included Blair Blackwell, manager for education and corporate programs at Chevron; Wendy Hawkins, executive director for the Intel Foundation; Aleta Stampley, director for K-12 education and community relations at Texas Instruments; and Mark Vaughn, manager of technical talent pipelining and lead at the technology community office of STEM at Corning Inc. 

The panelists shared their companies' initiatives for engaging students through educational programs, mentorship opportunities and direct outreach. 

Key points from the session included: 

  • Bringing women and minorities into STEM fields isn’t just about honoring ideals of inclusion, but doing so makes smart business sense. Why isolate some people from a field where they could have valuable impact for creating products that meet the needs of their social groups, Hawkins asked. 
  • Parents can involve their children in STEM. “Start somewhere,” Vaughn said. "Bring kids to work. Show them that scientists are not just old white guys in lab coats.” 
  • Bringing kids into STEM must begin early, Stampley said. Think of your life as cradle to career; investment needs to begin right in kindergarten, she pointed out. 
  • Give kids the chance to do science, Hawkins suggested, don’t just have them memorize facts. Blackwell said it’s important for young students to understand how the principles they are learning in the classroom can translate to a career in which they would use those principles every day. “Show them how skateboarding is a physics problem,” Stampley said.
  • STEM-driven organizations need people with a global mindset. “We need to keep up with world-class innovation,” Vaughn said. 
  • For women, Blackwell said, it’s important to highlight how technology will allow them to use their creativity and to make a difference in the world. Mentors can help with that mindset, she said, adding that she has seen top-STEM performing high school girls reach out to girls in junior high. 
  • Those who are STEM-focused must communicate well, think clearly, identify and problem and work out a solution, Blackwell said.
  • “The numbers are small,” said Vaughn in regard to recruiting more women and minorities, “but they being directed in the way that we would like to see them.”

Though companies indicate they are motivated to increase the diversity of employees in their fields, many of the barriers occur at the policy level, panelists said. “There are kids coming out of schools that are not ready for the kinds of jobs that we have available,” Hawkins says. “We want them to be. That's up to the legislature.” As an example, Stampley pointed out that Texas had removed Algebra II from its curriculum requirements, even though the state's legislature said the academic overhaul was designed to give students more flexibility to focus on vocational training. Even if members of the legislature support STEM standards, many do not follow through by supporting them financially, one member of the audience pointed out. 

Vaughn remained optimistic about the possibility of policy backing. “Legislators can come see what we do,” he said. “It helps them make the connection.” 

More from U.S. News: 

STEM jobs
STEM education
K-12 education