Guide for Minority Students In STEM
There 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.
There are many benefits associated with a learning environment that is rich in cultural, racial, and ethnic diversity. A diverse learning environment boasts enhanced cultural awareness, improved academic development, a more satisfying college experience, and a desire to promote racial equality and acceptance. Despite society’s best efforts, maintaining a diverse student body at colleges remains a difficult problem, especially in the highest echelons of academia. Minorities often encounter problems on college campuses, as well as in the world at large, such as discrimination. Many minority students also come from disadvantaged backgrounds which means that simply getting accepted to a college is a significant barrier in and of itself. All this means that many college campuses have a long way to go in terms of diversity. Well-established publications such as U.S. News and World Report (USNWR) have sought to quantify and measure ethnic diversity at campuses. In their work, USNWR sought to measure the ethnic diversity at a variety of U.S. colleges and universities by assigning a score from 0 to 1. The closer to 1, the more diverse the student body. However, the highest score available is only 0.77, or 77% of the total rating scale.
Systemic biases can lead to reduced college graduation rates for minorities
Minority 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 succeed
There 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.
Most schools have a diversity office, and you should check to see what your school’s office has done lately to foster cultural, ethnic, and racial diversity on campus. If your school does not have such an office, you may want to look for multicultural clubs and associations that can help you succeed.
- 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 College
If 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 college
All 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.
Join a professional organization
Colleges offer many professional organizations for minorities which can help minority students connect and thrive in their fields. A few examples are the National Society for Black Engineers, National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering, African American Women in Technology, Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, and American Indian Science and Engineering Society. Remember that you, too, can be a force for good Remember that college is a place where people from all background and beliefs come together to get educated. If you feel that your campus is not diverse enough, you can engage in the community and create your own club or student organization that promotes inclusiveness and cultural awareness. Be active, engage in the campus community, and use your voice to make a difference and create positive change. Talk to campus administrators such as faculty, staff, and deans to create experiences to shine light on an area that you can work towards making more inclusive. Not only will you benefit from doing so, but future minority students will benefit as well, creating a more equitable learning environment. Minority Serving Institutions As mentioned above, Minority Serving Institutions or MSIs are colleges and universities specifically dedicated to the education of minority students. MSIs, which currently include over 700 institutions across the United States, have more diverse faculty and are better equipped to address the unique needs of minority students compared to traditional colleges and universities. There are several types of MSIs, catering to Alaska Native and Native Hawaiians, Asian American and Native American Pacific Islanders, African Americans, Native Americans, and Hispanic students. There are many reasons to attend an MSI, such as increased diversity, academic support, lower cost compared to traditional colleges and universities, a better graduation rate, and better support for minority culture. In summary, choosing a college or university as a minority student in STEM is no easy feat. You will need to ensure that both your academic and social needs are being met at your institution, and that your institution works to foster diversity and academic success in all of its students. These days, most universities and colleges are striving to improve the inclusiveness and cultural diversity. However, even if you feel your college or university does not offer a diverse educational environment, you can be a positive force for change and start a club or chapter of a minority-serving professional organization to advance inclusiveness on campus. Minority students in STEM should also make sure that they have sufficient professional opportunities to network in their field, either via research opportunities, professional events, mentorship, or other means. The best way to succeed as a minority in STEM is to reach out to others who can serve as a resource or mentor for you. Students, minority or non-minority, who fail to make use of the resources available to them are far less likely to succeed than those who are proactive and seize upon the opportunities available.
Scholarships for Minority Students
Arab, Middle Eastern and North African http://www.naaponline.org/scholarship/ The Network of Arab-American Professionals provides a scholarship of $1,000 for students with a 3.0 GPA of Arab American heritage. Applications are due January 18. http://www.centeraap.org/grants/scholarships/dr-adawia-alousi-scholarship-fund-application/ This scholarship for Muslim women in STEM can be up to $10,000. Special consideration given to immigrants and refugees. Applications are due during the spring. http://www.centeraap.org/grants/scholarships/the-khalaf-family-scholarship-fund-application/ The Center for Arab American Philanthropy offers $2,500 for Arab American students studying engineering. Applications are due during the spring. Black and African American https://www.poisefoundation.org/the-agnes-jones-jackson-scholarship The NAACP offers a $2,500 scholarship for African American students maintaining a 2.5 GPA who demonstrate strong financial need. Applications are due during the spring. https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/diversity/programs/blacks-scholarships.aspx Microsoft’s popular scholarship provides two renewable $5,000 scholarships per year to African American, African, and Ethiopian learners planning to study STEM topics. Applications due March 8. Native American and Alaskan Native https://www.fordblueovalnetwork.org/american-indian-college-fund Ford provides scholarships to students with tribal affiliation planning to enroll full-time in a diploma, associate, bachelor’s, or graduate degree. Amounts vary and applications due May 31. http://www.nativepartnership.org/site/PageServer?pagename=aief_services_scholarships_undergrad The American Indian Education Fund sponsors this renewable $2,000 scholarship to individuals with proof of tribal enrollment alongside competitive ACT and GPA scores. Applications due April Hispanic and Latino https://www.alpfa.org/page/schol_landing The Association of Latino Professionals for America offers both Undergraduate and Graduate scholarships for a variety of STEM fields. Amounts vary. Applications due June 8. http://www.greatmindsinstem.org/scholarships/ Great Minds in STEM provides a scholarship up to $10,000 for Hispanic students attending college full time. Applications due April 30. Asian and Pacific Islander https://uspaacc.com/programs/education/college-scholarships The U.S. Pan Asian American Chamber of Commerce provides 15-20 scholarships per year of up to $5,000. The scholarships depend on an application which includes an essay, proof of need, and letters of recommendation. Applications due March 29. https://apiascholars.org/scholarship/apia-scholarship/ This is a general scholarship for students living below the poverty line looking to attend college as first generation students. Applications due January 10.