I recently had the pleasure of attending a well-coordinated event designed to connect educators, youth, and the workforce. The premise of the event was simple – show 8th graders alternative career paths in addition to four-year colleges. The event showcased a local technical school and programs geared towards STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) in manufacturing, welding, drafting, machine shops, 3D printers, etc.
The day started with a 30-minute video that showed real people working in STEM jobs. The examples used were snowboarding, race car driving, rock music and a transport vehicle in a 3rd world country. The individuals in the video were exactly who you are thinking of when we talk about techies. They were mostly middle-aged and young professional white males.
Although the video tried to use contemporary examples to appeal to youth, I still think they may have missed the mark. As I was scanning the room full of students, I realized that they do not look like the people in the video. 50% were not white, and 10% were female. I noticed this throughout the day-long event. The difference in demographics was also reflected back in the volunteers for the day, the learning videos provided in the classroom sessions, the teachers, and the student body of the technical school.
So my question became two-fold. How can we reach children without role models that reflect their demographics, and how do we increase diversity in STEM? And further, is the 8th grade too late to prepare children to embrace a career in STEM if they have not focused on Math or Science?
I’d love to hear your thoughts.