STEM advances should include minorities

EDDIE BERNICE JOHNSON | 8/14/2017, 12:21 a.m.
Innovations in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields drive our economy and produce products and services that touch all of ...
eddie bernice johnson

U.S. House of Representatives

Innovations in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields drive our economy and produce products and services that touch all of our lives. While the size of the STEM workforce is growing at an exponential rate, the growth in diversity of STEM professionals remains stagnant. As Ranking Member of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, finding ways to encourage students of all backgrounds to study and enter STEM fields has been a priority of mine. A major factor contributing to the lack of underrepresented minorities and women in STEM is insufficient early access and engagement in schools. Students often miss out on opportunities and programs due to poor outreach in their communities. Lack of engagement leaves students unaware of the possible career choices in these fields. Because of the rapid growth in the STEM workforce, we must ensure everyone is aware of opportunities where they can share their talent and skills. And I will continue to advocate for more diversity and representation of women and minorities in STEM careers.

It is imperative that exposure to STEM education start at a young age. Fortunately, Dallas offers many camps and programs for students interested in STEM. Dallas ISD’s Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math Department offers multiple free camps throughout the summer for children of all ages, and any high school student who is especially interested in STEM can apply to Dallas ISD’s School of Science and Engineering at Yvonne A. Ewell Townview Center. Several other local universities also offer programs for young aspiring innovators. The University of Texas at Dallas offers coding camps throughout the year, and Southern Methodist University hosts programs for promising engineers and mathematicians. By cultivating and nurturing young students from many different communities, we can be confident that we will see more diversity in STEM fields in the years to come.

Ever since I was first elected to the Texas State House, I have dedicated my career to bringing attention to these issues and the advancementing smart policies to address them. While in Congress, I have introduced the STEM Opportunities Act that would increase diversity in STEM in colleges and universities, enrich our STEM workforce and create more role models for female and minority students much earlier in the pipeline. More recently, I cosponsored a bi-partisan bill, H.R.3316, the Code Like a Girl Act of 2017. This bill, introduced by my colleague, Congresswoman Jacky Rosen (D-NV), requires the National Science Foundation to support education and research projects to increase the participation of early elementary and even pre-K school girls in coding and other computer science lessons and activities. Research shows that elementary school boys are more likely to take a computer science class than elementary school girls. We must start early if we are going to increase the participation of women and minorities in STEM. The U.S. Department of Commerce notes that women make up only 24 percent of the STEM workforce, though women account for half of the general workforce in the United States. New faces and ideas in this field will undoubtedly lead to new innovation in the STEM disciplines.

Every September in Washington, D.C., I host a Science and Technology Braintrust at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s Annual Legislative Conference in order to educate youth about the opportunities in STEM. Last year, at the 24th Annual Science and Technology Braintrust, I addressed the importance of diversity in the STEM professions. This year, we hope to engage a robust discussion on how to build careers in STEM and identify resources for students made available by various businesses.

I am very hopeful to see so many young girls and minority students take on an interest in these fields. I am confident they will grow to become some of our greatest innovators. To maximize positive change, it is our duty to expand and transform the STEM field to include more diverse students. I pledge to continue my work on educating and diversifying the future generation of STEM scholars.

U.S. Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson is the ranking member of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology. She represents the 30th Congressional District of Texas.