Guide for Minority Students In STEMThere are a growing number of resources available for minority students interested in pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Indeed, such opportunities for minority students not only level the playing field for all interested in STEM, but also serve to improve the academic and/or professional environment. Research indicates that socializing with diverse people from different races and ethnic backgrounds has a positive effect on students, both in terms of socialization as well as academics. Of course, diversity doesn’t have to apply to just races or ethnic groups – it can include other cultures, lifestyles, income brackets, persons with disabilities, and other groups as well.
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Systemic biases can lead to reduced college graduation rates for minoritiesMinority students may face barriers in high school which leave them less prepared for college than their non-minority peers. In high school, minority students may have reduced access to advanced courses, such as Advanced Placement courses in STEM fields, be taught by less experienced teachers, and be subject to tougher discipline than their non-minority peers. The high school Honors class race gap can make it more difficult for minority students to succeed in STEM. According to The Atlantic, only 25% of schools serving the highest percentages of minority students offer Algebra II classes, for example. These discrepancies add up to differences in college graduation rates that vary by race. Inside Higher Ed reports that white and Asian students earn college degrees at a rate of about 20% higher than Hispanic and black students. While the numbers may be discouraging, it is important to keep in mind that minority students in university do have many opportunities and resources that can help them succeed.
Minority college students in STEM have many resources to help them succeedThere is a substantial and growing amount of resources for minority students in STEM. One purpose of this article is to serve as a helpful guide for minority groups in STEM by detailing the many resources and opportunities available. Because of the challenges facing them, minority students in STEM must be proactive and actively seek out opportunities to succeed. Read more to learn about how to make the most of your college experience as a minority student in STEM.
Is your school inclusive?Many schools claim to be inclusive and supportive of diversity programs, but when it comes to walking the walk, they may come up short. In order to determine which academic environments are truly diverse, look for the following components in your college experience:
- Determine whether your school qualifies as a Minority Serving Institution. The U.S. Department of Education designates certain schools which meet specific requirements as Minority Serving Institutions, or MSIs. These are higher education institutions that serve minority populations and are therefore unique in both mission and operations. MSIs work to provide students the social and educational skills they need to surmount racial discrimination and limited economic opportunity.
- Make sure that your school has a Diversity Office. Students in STEM may not always want to attend an MSI to further their educational experience. Students not attending MSIs should make sure that their school has an office dedicated to diversity. Typically, such offices are called the “Office of Multicultural Affairs” or “Diversity and Inclusion Office” or something similar. For example, Pennsylvania State University offers a Multicultural Resource Center which, according to its website, “provides individual counseling and educational services for undergraduate multicultural students at University Park and assists students in meeting the challenges associated with education and attaining a degree at a major research institution.” The Penn State Multicultural Resource Center works with students on a one-to-one basis on a variety of issues to help students graduate and succeed in life after college as well.
- See if your school has multicultural or minority-serving clubs and associations. Many STEM-focused schools offer clubs and associations for minorities. For example, the tech school MIT boasts a Black Students’ Union, a chapter of the American Indian Science and Engineering Society, as well as a Latino Cultural Center, which is a multicultural hub that aims to unite many Latinx clubs and student groups at the university.
- Find out what percentage of your school is comprised of minorities – both in terms of students and faculty. The S. Department of Education offers statistics on student diversity at U.S. colleges and universities on their site. Check out the faculty at your school as well to determine whether the teaching staff is diverse and inclusive. A more diverse faculty can signify a more inclusive experience for minorities.
- Check out your college’s events calendar for programs related to diversity, inclusion, and cultural awareness. Most schools offer days to celebrate various racial and ethnic groups and those institutions that offer such events on a regular basis are more likely to foster inclusion.
- Look for diversity in the college curriculum. Many schools now offer major and/or minor programs that promote diversity and inclusiveness. Major and/or minor programs like African-American Studies, Gender Studies, and Latinx Arts and Humanities can indicate a push for inclusiveness at your college. Also, look at your school’s requirements in terms of activities or events that are required to attend that promote diversity. For example, mandatory diversity and cultural sensitivity trainings at your institution are a good sign that your school is making substantial efforts to improve inclusiveness.
- Read your college’s mission and goals, as well as its nondiscrimination policy. Universities all offer nondiscrimination and other policies online on their website. Familiarize yourself, also, with the mission of your college and its institutional values. This will help you determine how the campus values will be lived out by you and other students.
- Look for STEM resources for students. Resources such as faculty and/or peer mentoring, campus support groups, career-related organizations in STEM, research opportunities to expand skills, and courses and tutoring to improve study skills are all things that are offered by many college STEM programs. These resources can help all students, including minority students, gain the tools they need to succeed.
Prepare Yourself for CollegeIf you are several years into your college experience and either feel like you don’t fit in, or you have done the research on a prospective college and do not feel like you belong there, you may wish to leave or not attend university. However, quitting does not have to be your only option. There are several steps you can take to ensure your success wherever you go. Remember that having a social network in college will help you succeed regardless of the campus environment. Social support can help you get through the everyday stresses of college and deal with discrimination or other events that may occur in your college journey. High school students can prepare academically by brushing up on academic concepts they will encounter in college. This can include both STEM and other topics. Advanced Placement (AP) courses may not be available for all students, but those who have access to them may be able to get college credit for taking AP courses and have a lighter course load. Students should also seek out ways to reduce the financial burden of their university education. Obtaining college credit through AP courses is one option, and obtaining scholarships is another way to lighten the financial load. Applying to and obtaining scholarships can make college less expensive and, by extension, less stressful, enabling minority students to focus on their studies rather than their economic situation.
Brush up on STEM concepts before collegeAll college students can benefit from a refresher on important topics in STEM between semesters. Minority students, who may not have the access to advanced courses that non-minority students do in high school and earlier, may particularly benefit from such review. If you feel that you have not had sufficient preparation in high school, and to avoid being blindsided by STEM concepts in basic physics, math, chemistry, and other STEM courses in college, you may wish to consult the following sites for refresher courses:
- Khan Academy is a website that offers free classes and informational content about a multitude of different topics in science, technology, and engineering. For example, Khan Academy offers courses in advanced mathematics such as Trigonometry, Statistics, Precalculus, Calculus. Students can also learn AP coursework on the site for free which can help minority students prepare for and take AP exams to earn college credit.
- Codecademy is a free website where students can take courses and labs in many computer programming languages including Python, Java Script, Ruby, CSS, and HTML. Codecademy members can also network and share knowledge on the site’s message boards.