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5 Ways to Encourage More Women & Minorities into STEM Careers

5 Ways to Encourage More Women & Minorities into STEM Careers

Dr. David Drew

The following is an interview with Dr. David Drew.

David, what are some of your findings about ways to get more minorities and women into the fields of STEM (Science, Tech, Education and Math?)

1. High Expectations.

Set high standards. Students will stretch to meet those standards. Building confidence is important, but not unless it is based on solid achievement. Otherwise raising self-esteem becomes an empty promise. Example: I interviewed a Black student a couple years ago. He grew up in poverty, went to a mediocre high school, and assumed he wasn’t college material. He applied to the University of Houston/Downtown and another university. The other one turned him down and he gave up. He later found out UH had accepted him and he went there to study computer science. He had to take math courses. He discovered he loved math and was really good at it. He became interested in encryption and won many awards. He turned down a job offer from the NSA and is now in grad school.

2. Recruitment.

Many middle and high school students do not realize that college is an option for them (let only majoring in a STEM discipline). This is particularly true for students from poverty or students who would be the first in their family to go to college.

3. Mentoring.

This is absolutely critical. Successful programs are characterized by faculty and staff who watch over, guide, and mentor their students. Both the Houston consortium and the Louisiana consortium contain world-class mentors. For example, physicist Diola Bagayoko at Southern University in LA launched a mentoring academy, which he called the Timbuktu Academy, which has become recognized as a national model. (He modeled it after the ancient academy in Mali which was formed 500 years ago). Another leader is at Texas Southern (a historically black university). Dr. Bobby Wilson is there—he carefully guides each of his students—and he’s helped by Michelle Tolbert, a creative dynamo. He’s a distinguished chemist, who previously was at the NSF, and now is a committed leader and mentor. TSU also has a math professor, Dr. Taylor, who, day and night, counsels students on math. They come from all over Houston to work with him and learn from him.

4. Peer Culture.

Successful programs facilitate the development of a peer culture focused on academic achievement. Students become friends with, and hang out with, other students in the program. But most of the time they are discussing math problems, their science homework, etc.—not music or sports. A great example: the University of Houston/Central. They had some old buildings that they’ve set aside where students of the program can hang out, work on homework, get guidance. I’ve spent time there. It’s their community…it’s a peer culture built around academic success.

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5. Community Colleges.

The community colleges represent a vast reservoir of untapped talent. Many students with high potential for success in STEM disciplines have very limited financial resources and begin their postsecondary education in a community college. Successful programs carefully articulate the transition from a community college to a four year institution. The main issue isn’t “Are they good enough?” The main issue is how to transfer successfully into a four-year university setting. The transition needs to be smooth. The University of Houston system has mentoring and a technology system in place to help the community college transfers.

David, why isn’t this more known?

These results have been presented, published, and discussed within the academic community…presentations at national and international conferences, a chapter in an upcoming book, etc…..but most members of the general public are not aware of this progress.

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