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Megacommunities bridge STEM gap

Freddie Allen | 4/28/2014, 8:42 a.m.
Freeman A. Hrabowski, III, president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, who also published research focused on science and math education and minority participation and performance, speaks during a health care summit at Howard University in Washington, D.C. Photos by Freddie Allen

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – In an effort to address persistent racial disparities in science and engineering careers, educators and community stakeholders have embraced the “megacommunity” model of cooperation.

The megacommunity model is characterized by its tri-sector approach to solving hard, real world problems through active collaborations involving non-profit groups, government agencies and businesses. From battling the HIV/AIDS epidemic in India, to preserving rain forests in South America, to revitalizing neighborhoods in Harlem through economic development, leaders around the globe have utilized the megacommunity model.

“You have to have collaboration across the private sector, the public sector and non-profits working together to solve these problems if you want the solution to be sustainable,” said Reginald Van Lee, a senior vice president at Booz Allen Hamilton in Washington, D.C. “We discovered if one of those sectors is left out of fixing the problem, eventually that will sabotage the solution and it won’t be sustainable.”

Van Lee, who co-wrote a book on megacommunities, shared his thoughts on the unique problem-solving approach at a recent health care symposium at Howard University in Washington, D.C. Van Lee said that effective megacommunities must be inclusive, adaptable, tech savvy, feature tri-sector engagement, foster talent and focus on long-term solutions.

Getting more minorities into science, technology, engineering and mathematics careers will become increasingly important as the workforce becomes more diverse and job growth in STEM-related fields continues to outpace the job growth in other sectors.

According to a recent study on STEM education by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, “From the post-World War II era through 2009, the S&E (science and engineering) workforce has grown from 182,000 in 1950 to 5.4 million.”

Over the past decade, job growth in the technology sector has outpaced growth in other sectors, according to the Joint Center study.

“This trend is expected to continue, as it is in all fields most dependent on STEM-prepared workers,” the study stated. “Through 2018, job growth in these sectors is expected to outpace job growth in fields less dependent on STEM-prepared workers.”

The report continued: “While the latter set of jobs is expected to grow at a rate of 9.8 percent through the next five years, the jobs most dependent on STEM workers are expected to grow at a rate of 17 percent during the same period.”

The Joint Center reported that “17 percent of employed African Americans over the age of 25 have a college degree in a STEM-related field” compared to 22 percent of Whites in the same age group that hold similar degrees.

Yet, Blacks hold less than 4 percent of all science and engineering jobs, and Whites occupy nearly 72 percent of all science and engineering jobs.

And while the Black unemployment rate is 12.4 percent, according to the most recent jobs report by the Labor Department, the jobless rate in computer and math jobs is 3.3 percent, less than half of the national unemployment rate of 6.7 percent.

In November 2013, Van Lee and other stakeholders challenged a mixed group of health care providers to develop megacommunities to address racial disparities in STEM careers and health care and to raise awareness about the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also known as “Obamacare.”