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Press Releases :: March 16, 2010

Scholarships, Mentors, Minority Faculty, and Effective Teaching Methods will Improve Minority Representation in STEM Fields, Committee Hears

(Washington, DC) – Today, the House Committee on Science and Technology’s Subcommittee on Research and Science Education held a hearing to examine institutional and cultural barriers in order to broaden the participation of students pursuing degrees in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Specifically, Subcommittee Members discussed current efforts to overcome these barriers at both mainstream and minority-serving institutions and the role federal agencies can play in supporting these efforts. Also, in preparation for the America COMPETES Act reauthorization, Subcommittee Members reviewed the state of programs within the National Science Foundation (NSF) with the goal of strengthening the agency’s research and education missions, including programs related to broadening participation in STEM.
 
“Science and engineering have become steadily more important not only in our daily lives, but also to the economic strength and competitiveness of the United States,” stated Subcommittee Chairman Daniel Lipinski (D-IL). “We have heard many times that we, as a nation, need to produce more scientists and engineers, as well as a more STEM-literate workforce to fill a growing number of technical jobs.  But we will find it much more difficult to develop the well-trained STEM workforce we need if we continue to overlook significant parts of the talent pool. We need to do a better job of developing all of the STEM talent the nation has to offer, especially because changing demographics mean that by 2050, 55 percent of the college population will be from groups that are currently minorities.”
 
"For America to secure her place as the global leader in technology and innovation, we must recruit and retain more students in the STEM fields. We must give every student, regardless of gender or race, the opportunity to access a quality STEM education, encourage them to pursue their interests in those fields, and provide them with mentors dedicated to their success. This Committee has long worked towards that end. I look forward to continuing this critically important work,"said Subcommittee Vice Chairwoman Marcia L. Fudge (D-OH), who chaired the first part of the hearing.
 
Undergraduate enrollment in STEM fields has risen over the years; according to the National Science Board’s Science and Engineering Indicators 2010 report, 486,000 students earned STEM bachelor’s degrees in 2007. Although the number of minorities receiving bachelor’s degrees in STEM fields has increased slightly, the proportion of these degrees (17 percent) is still 20 percentage points less than the representation of minorities within the U.S. college age population (37 percent). Between 2006 and 2016, the Bureau of Labor and Statistics projects that STEM occupations will grow by 21.4 percent. As the fraction of minority college students is expected to grow, so do the concerns regarding the widening gap between the supply and demand of the STEM workforce.
 
“Studies show that regardless of background, one-third of all incoming freshmen plan to major in a STEM field, but the fraction of students completing STEM degrees varies widely by race. We need to get a better understanding of the unique obstacles faced by individuals from different racial, cultural, and socioeconomic backgrounds in order to identify both common challenges and opportunities to widen the STEM pipeline,” added Lipinski.
 
NSF is responsible for promoting scientific and engineering literacy in the U.S. and has incorporated goals related to broadening participation in STEM into its strategic plan. NSF requested $788 million in the FY 2011 budget request for programs and activities with either a specific focus or an emphasis on broadening the participation of underrepresented groups in STEM education and research. Although NSF is the main agency involved in broadening participation in STEM, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and the Department of Energy also support a few programs designed to increase the number of minority representation in STEM fields. 
 
Witnesses cited school debt, lack of minority representation among faculty, a lack of connection between real world problems and solutions to the coursework being taught, and a lack of pre-requisite knowledge in science and mathematics as the current challenges for minority students in pursuit of STEM degrees.
 
Witnesses stressed the importance of scholarships and fellowship, especially those funded by NSF, in helping minority students offset the cost of STEM degrees. Industry sponsored student internships were stressed as beneficial to students’ experience and financial obligations, allowing them to be full-time students. In order to increase the number of minority STEM faculty, witnesses stressed the significance mentors and role models play in directing minority students to the resources and social networks needed to be successful. Lastly, Subcommittee Members and witnesses discussed the importance of incorporating more science, technology, and engineering coursework earlier on and teaching STEM subjects in an inspirational way which shows students the real world applications of STEM fields.
 
For more information on the Committee’s work on STEM education or COMPETES, please visit the Committee’s website.
 
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