A Director at the University of Georgia Atmospheric Sciences Program posed a question during an interview with the Ebony magazine “ Why African American girls May Be Left Out of the 21st Century Job Market”. The answers to the question seem to be glaring simple and complicated at the same time. African Americans, especially girls in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), continue to record decreasing numbers careerwise. Will all the data pointing to the fact that STEM jobs in the 21st century are considered the best jobs with the top 15 emanating from any one f those fields.
The 21st century economy requires professionals who are more inclined to STEM careers – professionals who can read weather patterns, climate science, computer engineering, solar engineering, environmental sciences and mitigation-adaptation strategies. Although this is the case, with the current trends, African American girls are woefully underrepresented. This is supported by statistics from The National Science Foundation. From these statistics, less than 10% of Masters Degrees in STEM fields were awarded to African Americans as compared to 63% awarded to whites. With increased focus on clean energy to drive the economy and promote environmental sustainability among other essentials, there is a need to study the reasons behind under representation of the African American girl in STEM careers.
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The National Science Foundation (NSF) approximates that African American women and girls comprise of 6% of the US population and out of the 14% enrolled in four-year institutions, only 10. 4% graduate in STEM fields. With a representation of 17% in Bachelor’s degree and 13% in Masters, it is notable but also discouraging that African American degree attainment is 800% less than that of white females.
According to the latest publication by My College Options and STEMconnector, there is concerning trend that students interested in STEM careers exhibit an increasing gender gap. Female students in enrolling in STEM have a 14. 5% compared to 39. 6% of their male counterparts. In spite, the fact that an increase in the percentage of students enrolled in STEM carriers has been witnessed since 2004, with a 20% increase and an anticipated increase in future, Asian, Hispanic, American Indian and White students are the only beneficiaries. There is information from a report entitled Education Supports Racial and Ethnic Equality in STEM prepared by the Department of Commerce cites Non-Hispanic Blacks and Hispanic. From this report, there is accounting of six percent of all STEM workers but 11 percent and 24 percent respectively in overall employment. In a similar report, the Department of Commerce notes that gender disparities exist with only 24 percent in STEM jobs out of the 48% workforce held by women. The data make it clear that women and minorities such as Black Americans are considerably underrepresented in STEM careers. There is a need to increase support and representation of these marginalized groups in STEM fields to broaden their opportunities and participation in the modern economy.
This study focuses on investigating the reasons behind racial disparities in the representation of science, technology, engineering and mathematics study fields and careers between African American and other racial groups. It also focuses on seeking solutions to, urgently, improve and increase science, technology, engineering, and math skills among students and citizenry of United States to navigate modern world and access opportunities it affords. Research has shown that STEM-related post secondary education is beneficial in the current job market. Given the need to improve STEM education in America and promote access to STEM facilities and opportunities, what steps need to be taken or policies need to be implemented?
SIGNIFICANCE OF THE STUDY
This study further explores the reasons that lead to gender disparities in enrolment and employment of STEM students and workforce. Studies have shown that there are racial disparities in STEM-related courses. Of more concern is the fact that, in spite of, these differences, the gender factor cuts across widening the gap even further. The African American female child is less inclined to STEM-related courses and career. There is another study by Studies obtained from National 20-Year Trends in Stem Interest by Gender. This report reveals that male students are, significantly, more likely than their female counterparts to take an interest in pursuing a college major or career in STEM related field. It revealed that the gender gap had remained relatively steady for the past 20 years, but it is now widening at an alarming rate. This alarming increase is what motivated this study to dig further past the racial framework and into the gender dimension.
PURPOSE OF THE STUDY
According to since the graduating class of 2004, overall interest in STEM majors and careers has plunged significantly among high school student and college and university entrants. Arguably, the most intriguing trend with students interested in STEM has been the ever increasing gender gap. As a result, the purpose of this study is inclined on investigating the reasons behind attitude change towards STEM-related enrolments and careers among women – especially of African American descent. The trend cannot be left unattended because the economy is increasingly inclined towards STEM related careers. In 2012, for instance, STEM workforce surpassed more than 7 million workers and the trend are expected to increase significantly by 2020.
More importantly, the manufacturing sector faces immense shortage of employees with STEM skills. More than half a million manufacturing jobs are going unfilled in the current economy in spite of prevailing economic terms. More intriguing is the fact that, between 2011 and 2015, an estimated 1. 7 million jobs were created in the cloud computing platform, in North America. Another considerable amount approximately equivalent to half a million jobs is emerging courtesy of mobile applications. It is estimated that, by 2018, the bulk of STEM jobs will be in computing, manufacturing and physical sciences. Computing takes the lead due to the magnitude of technologies that have been incepted, in the past decade, and the rush to migrate all businesses in the world to the cloud. According to STEMconnector and My College Options, 71% will be aligned towards computing, 16% will concern traditional engineering while 7%, 4% and 2% will emanate from physical sciences, life sciences and mathematics consecutively. These data is beneficial to the business community, educational leaders, policy makers and leaders in the STEM ecosystem as well as in the contemporary world.
The study is beneficial to leaders, decision and policy makers and the general public in carving out solutions to address the gender and racial disparities in STEM-related careers and enrolments. The results of the study form the corner stone to addressing and solving the problem conclusively. It will, for instance, point to the paucity of readily available role models for African American girls as they consider the choice of STEM carriers. Likewise, it will outline how the dearth of STEM role models harms African American girls as they embark on college majors and career trajectories. Coincidentally, the study will evaluate the effect of the “ male geek” stereotype about STEM related courses and how they actively dissuade women from considering this path.
The primary population to be sampled in this study involves the students enrolled in over 95% of US high schools. High school students are chosen because it is through high school that students declare their interest in STEM related courses or not. It is also due to the underlying principle that most colleges and universities enroll students in STEM courses basing on subject combination in high school. Therefore, high school forms the fundamental bridge upon which students will pursue STEM related courses in college and subsequently advance to a related career or not. Other supporting statistics will be sourced from Department of Commerce, Bureau of Labor Statistics among other institutions.
This study will use secondary data and germinal publications obtained from other research and studies. Numerous publications have emerged that try to explain the motivations behind diverse racial and gender representations in STEM courses and careers.
Consequently, numerous research paper have been published and tries to connect the pieces as to why female students lag behind their male peers in aspects of mathematics and science achievements and attainment of careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. According to National Science Foundation’s Program For Gender Equity paper tilted Science Gender and Afterschool working conference, gender differences in performance are linked to “ common, ordinary differences” in mathematics and sciences education and attitudes among boys and girls. It found that boys and girls perform, at similar levels in mathematics and sciences, in elementary school. On the contrary, girls perform less poorly as they advance past high school due to decreasing attitudes towards mathematics and sciences. It found that girls have few out-of-school experiences in science fields than boys and as such explains the reduction in the girl’s inclination towards science courses. The study continues to highlight the fact that, while girls are a substantial majority in placement test-takers in 2001, they were significantly underrepresented in mathematics and science fields. Even though the gap has decreased in terms of representation, males still outperform females on high-stakes tests such as SAT and ACT. College representation tends to decrease towards college and girls are less likely to complete undergraduate and graduate STEM degrees.
In Clewell (2010) view, such decreasing trends of girl’s success in STEM-related career is attributed to factors such as; diverse learning styles, strategies, educational environments and participation that promote/ dissuade girls STEM advancement. Also, there are after school program access issues for girls as well as lack of role models and motivation from the society on STEM-related carriers.
This study will, however, narrow down its investigative dimensions to study the impacts of motivation and role models to African American girls in adopting STEM related courses and careers. The study is motivated to take this path because given other variables in the American society constant, motivation from family, friends and society and role models stand out as significant determinants of African American girl’s excellence in STEM-related degree programs and career.
In that respect, the research question for the study narrows to “ What are the impacts of motivation, out of school programs such as Girl Scouts and role models in the representation of African American girl child in STEM-related courses and career?”.
The research question is motivated by the indications that women of color in the sciences face the double barriers of racism and sexism. However, little research had explored the connection between gender and ethnicity in terms of women’s involvement in STEM achievements, in school and career. Very limited data are available to show the relationship between ethnic alienation and women performance in STEM related careers. As a matter of fact, little data or none is disaggregated by sex and racial alienation, data is presented by sex or ethnicity. In a research by Coley (2001) to probe high school course-taking, educational attainment, employment data and advanced placement, he found that ethnicity and gender variable do not vary much in relation to STEM careers. Females outperformed males on some indicators while male outperformed females on others. Thus, nature of inequality in education based on ethnicity and gender are crucial factors with no conclusive decision and as such still remains a complex phenomenon.
In this respect, out of the need to avoid undue biases related to gender and ethnicity in relation to African American girl child, the study will probe the effects of motivation role models in shaping the future of African American representation in STEM. The question is further reinforced by a study be Clewell and Ginorio which found that neither is research on women and girls of one race or ethnicity or social class generalizable to other races or ethnic or social classes. Three researchers have concluded that at the time of school entry, race, gender, and social class difference are minimal in mathematics and science readiness. At the early grade, the relationship between parental and child expectation – that boys will perform better than girls in mathematics was weak but tend to culminate in higher grades.
It is evident that technological innovations are at its best in creating products and services that solve the needs of the society. However, a technologically dependent society cannot be developed without reliance on STEM careers. Young women especially those of African American descent are underrepresented in this field. The workforce does not, sufficiently, reflect the demographics of its population, and as such will not capture the benefits such as improved standards of living and new career advancement in a balanced manner.
Currently, the US economy depends more than ever on the talents of skilled and high-tech workforce. The nation will face a severe shortage of the workforce and labor if current trends continue to prevail. Locking out women on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics enrolments in colleges and universities will mean that they will be sidelined in the emerging workforce. Computer related occupations face tremendous shortages of female labor especially those of African American origin.
In order to leverage further development of skills and bridge, the gap more needs to be done. The solutions lie in understanding the detriments of STEM careers among African American women and girls.
Role models and mentors are fundamental to the advancement of African American girl child in STEM. Role models offer the much needed leverage and act as points of support and reference as the child travel through complicated waters full of pessimist and male stereotypes. Mentors, on the other hand, provide a continuous close connection with female students and offer one-to-one guidance and direction in respect to STEM courses and career options.
Girl Scouts have been proven to leverage girl’s attempts to jumping off negative factors that bar them from excelling in STEM programs. Girl Scout programs inspire girls to pursue science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Currently, Girl Scouts have partnered with Society of Women Engineers, Lockheed Martin, Women in Technology, NASA and other organizations to give girls firsthand experience in robotics, marine biology and other science competitions.
Young female students are more likely to consider a STEM career if support is from a mentor or a close family member than those from distant relatives. Research from Techbridge- a program connected to California based Chabot Space and Science Center found that girls are more likely to take a STEM career path if they enjoy the support from family members who convey enjoyment for their study and work with strong encouragement for a career in technology, engineering or mathematics. Mentors can be close family members and friends apart from instructors and teachers.
Likewise, having a wide variety of role models and mentors provide support and helps combat the negative stereotypes that hold girls especially of African American origin down in respect to STEM. As Tech Savvy report from the American Association of University Women points, negative stereotypes that associate STEM fields with “ nerdy” men who in isolation from others and real-life problems contribute to weak representation of African American women in STEM. It is believed that women prefer careers that enable them help others, and the fact that careers such as computer science and engineering do not exhibit collaborative, human and social applications alienate girls. Many women have had it out of sheer lack of knowledge that STEM courses lack the human and social applications and according to AAUW, many of those interviewed had the belief.
The stereotypes have gone to the level that advertisements related to technology media portray men in more technical roles than women. Televisions often associate any technical aspect to men and portray women as lab assistants or characters that look up to the main character. For instance, Dexter’s Laboratory “ Bill Nye the Science Guy” and “ Beakman’s World all portray STEM as man’s world exhibited by stereotypical men with pocket protectors and glasses who appear as nerdy and anti-social and puts women less intellectually superior.
The lack of motivation has resulted in the girl’s self-inflicted belief that they are being underrepresented. This is because STEM courses are only interesting to boys and as such do not align with their interest thus irrelevant to their lives and no need to pursue. This is exacerbated by family perceptions and beliefs that decent jobs include such jobs as lawyers, doctors and businesspersons. African American parents still retain the past thinking that working for the city is the way to go with their children. This discourages them from pursuing STEM-related courses. This minority and conservative culture especially among African Americans where they view themselves as minority to the other groups in everything have discouraged potential girls and women from pursuing their dreams.
A Girls Incorporated study – The Explorer’s Pass indicated that girls in mathematics and science benefitted from adult encouragement and modeling from school and family quarters and lack of it lead to the “ reluctance to get dirty and a tendency to ask for male rescue when things get difficult or boring”. This study confirms that girls need a supportive environment to pursue their interest, take risks, not shy away from making mistakes, and use mistake making as a platform of learning and get things better. Most African American girls are afraid of the STEM courses and careers due to lack of support from inside and outside the family spectrum. The fear of failing in the midst of White excelling lot discourages them more.
As one black professional noted “ the feeling of being isolated due to under-representation and limited access is a significant hindrance to black girls in their advancement earlier in learning and career” but that “ issues from my experience have had to do more with being a woman than being Black” to imply that lack of support, encouragement and proper education and mentoring are to blame rather than being black women. Mentoring young African American girls to pursue STEM courses and career serves to connect them with the industry and increase their participation.
This study has probed the detriments of women’s participation and enrolment in STEP careers and courses. The study has found that there is enormous underrepresentation of women especially African American in STEM. The disparities are worrying as confirmed by the US National Center for Education Statistics. Out of 5048 PhD degrees awarded to women in the physical sciences, 89 went to blacks. In a dynamic economy and job market where everything is inclined to science, technology engineering and mathematics, the trend is alarming. Using data from high school facilities among other institutions and publications, the study has outlined the greatest determinants as motivation and role models. Considering recent statistics that STEM related jobs in the US is expected to surge up to 1. 78 million by 2016, it is essential that a collaborative approach be employed to fill the gender and racial gap existing in college enrolments and job market representation.
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