New Studies Suggest That Black Students Are Curious About STEM, But There’s More To The Story

It is common knowledge that many Black students across the United States do not have equal access to quality Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) education compared to their peers of other races. This disparity has created a domino effect in the workforce that is triggered by Black and brown students being underserved early on in their academic journies. Although the numbers have shown that students of color face challenges with access to quality education and, therefore, do not excel in school, new research suggests that there is more to the story. According to a collaborative report from YouScience and Black Girls Do STEM, Black students are interested in STEM careers, but the systemic barriers in place often stifle their chances of exploring or excelling in STEM, and that has become a broader issue in the education sector.

Every statistic tells a story, but for decades, the general consensus has been that Black students do not participate in STEM because of a lack of competence or perhaps an interest in only sports—or music-related careers. According to this study, Black students want to be involved, but a combination of inaccessible resources and a lack of knowledge makes this virtually impossible.

In a press release, Edson Barton, Founder, and CEO of YouScience, pointed out that the lack of exposure to quality STEM education affects Black students at higher levels, but early intervention might be the key forward.

“For decades, Black students have encountered inequities that have impacted their pathways in education and then career. It’s imperative to recognize that Black students possess the aptitude for all STEM careers, but the glaring exposure gap remains a formidable challenge due to resource deficiencies and lack of representation,”  Barton said. “By bridging the exposure gaps and doing so earlier in education, society can help Black students understand all the opportunities available to them and connect them with education and career pathways and programs that can foster even more skills and understanding.”

The system is not generally designed to cater to Black students, and this is evident in the grim statistics by UNCF that specifically show that Black students are typically underprepared for college by the time they are in high school. Because of their limited exposure to STEM enrichment programs and inaccessible advanced coursework and hands-on learning experiences, there is a growing gap that only seems to be worsening with time. Organizations like The STEM Greenhouse have made it their mission to nurture STEM curiosity in minority students and while this can seem like a never-ending uphill battle, there is some hope.

The systemic issue is becoming a widespread problem.

According to a study published by UNCF, “Even when Black students do have access to honors or advanced placement courses, they are vastly underrepresented in these courses. Black and Latino students represent 38 percent of students in schools that offer AP courses, but only 29 percent of students enrolled in at least one AP course. Black and Latino students also have less access to gifted and talented education programs than white students.”

The absence of diverse role models and mentors further compounds the issue, depriving Black children of relatable figures who can guide and inspire them on their STEM journey. Without access to supportive networks and mentorship opportunities, many Black children navigate the STEM landscape alone, grappling with self-doubt and uncertainty about their place in these sectors. There are several solutions to address these barriers, but to uncover the full potential of Black children in STEM, decision-makers have to contribute to breaking down the systemic barriers that prevent Black students from nurturing their curiosity, creativity, and confidence in STEM.

Early Exposure and Engagement Is a Powerful Solution

Investing in early exposure programs that introduce Black children to STEM concepts through hands-on activities, interactive learning experiences, and engaging role models is essential. In 2021, The Dorothy A. Johnson Center for Philanthropy conducted a report on The STEM Greenhouse that highlighted the advantage of early exposure to STEM for underserved students. Additionally, opportunities for exploration from an early age can be invaluable for students who have been set on a trajectory that has set them in economically disadvantaged positions.

Creating a Culturally Relevant Curriculum Can Spark Engagement

It is important for schools to develop culturally relevant STEM curriculum materials that reflect the experiences, interests, and backgrounds of Black students. The STEM Greenhouse, through its programs, has become a leader in incorporating diverse perspectives, real-world examples, and culturally responsive teaching practices through its Sankofa STEM Academy, SAGE, Kids Count, and STEM Scholars programs. Real-world examples of minority professionals thriving in STEM can serve as mentors and culturally responsive teachers can enrich the lives of students and give them a hopeful outlook for the future.

Equity in Access Can Be Empowering

In a world where every child, regardless of their background, has equal access to STEM, it is important for large corporations to join in on the call for advocacy. Companies and organizations can lend their influence for the greater good by directing their investments toward under-resourced school districts and equity-focused organizations that are focused on empowering students for the STEM future.

Empowered Communities

The adage “it takes a village to raise a child” amplifies the power of a community coming together to uplift and support its children’s dreams. The idea behind this originates from an African proverb that conveys the idea that raising children the right way requires a community effort. That idea has inspired a lot of The STEM Greenhouse’s strategic approach to keeping families and caretakers engaged and involved in their students’ academic progress. That’s the essence of empowering communities in the STEM education and equity journey. Because of this engagement, the community of students that The STEM Greenhouse serves is supported, celebrated, and inspired towards success and growing curiosity in STEM.

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