Minorities Miss out on High-Tech Careers African Americans and Others Need More Training in Scientific and Technological Fields, an Educator Says

Article excerpt

TO adequately address the nation's future needs, we must identify more training and professional growth opportunities for minorities in science and engineering. We must strive for a broad-based science education program that embraces the students not only as users of science, but as potential scientists, from kindergarten through graduate school and beyond. This nation's overall standard of living and quality of life depend on such efforts.

The leadership role of the United States in science and technology has been created and sustained by both home-grown and imported scientific talent. Today's increasing trend of importing scientific talent to meet our science needs illustrates that we have a questionable desire to adequately cultivate our own minority human resource. In light of the growing minority population in the US, it is imperative that underrepresented minorities help create the new economic opportunities that emerge from scientific discoveries. Encouraging scientific literacy and participation in the discovery process gives stepping stones to future scientific leaders.

Those who must supply the energy, talent, and knowledge to sustain us into the 21st century are already in the educational system. We must act quickly and deliberately to make a difference for them. We must develop comprehensive science education programs and more concerted efforts to encourage talented minorities to pursue careers in science and technology.

Historically, minorities have been underrepresented in scientific and technical disciplines. Often, they have not participated in programs critical to developing careers in science. Consequently, they are not prepared to meet our increased needs for a high-tech work force, and they are unlikely to benefit from new employment opportunities, professional advancements, and, ultimately, a higher quality of life.

The frontiers of science and technology are evolving at a dramatic pace, fueled largely by the information revolution, global competitiveness, and health and environmental concerns. Up to two-thirds of the productivity growth in the US since the Depression stems from technological advances, according to the Clinton administration. Not so, however, in minority communities, where careers in sports, entertainment, health, and the legal profession are the avenues of success and wealth.

Advances in science and technology are destined to drive global economic markets well into the 21st century. African Americans and other minorities must emerge as full participants so they, too, can experience and contribute to these exciting opportunities.

Education is obviously the key. But what are the realities when it comes to educating minority youngsters? These students have limited access to well-prepared teachers and other educational resources compared with peers supported by a stronger tax and resource base. About 30 percent of students in the public schools are minorities, yet fewer than 10 percent of the teachers are.

This lack of resources and effective role models adds to the declining performance of African-Americans in science and mathematics. From 1972 to 1989, dropout rates for US blacks were twice as high as those for whites, while for Hispanics the rate was three times higher than whites. Diminishing student performance seems to be interwoven with a declining interest in careers in science, engineering, and mathematics.

In the 1970s, efforts by federal agencies, foundations, the science and engineering industrial sectors, professional organizations, and colleges and universities began making some headway. From 1977 to 1989 there was a 20 percent jump in the number of bachelor's degree recipients in the natural sciences. …