Academic journal article Journal of STEM Education : Innovations and Research

Nurturing Diversity in STEM Fields through Geography: The Past, the Present, and the Future

Academic journal article Journal of STEM Education : Innovations and Research

Nurturing Diversity in STEM Fields through Geography: The Past, the Present, and the Future

Article excerpt

Abstract

To date, there has been a wealth of research on participation in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields, but most research focuses on the implementation of programs and whether these programs work. Such research can be expanded and enhanced by considering geographic perspectives on participation in the STEM fields and by examining the factors that prevent participation in these fields. In this paper, we seek to examine geographic perspectives to broadening participation in the STEM fields in two ways. We first conduct a literature review on the geographical understanding of barriers and facilitators of higher education that encompasses underrepresented populations in STEM fields. Second, we present a case study that catalyzes geography and seeks to broaden participation in the STEM fields. Both the literature review and case study show the significance and the role played by place-based factors and approaches, spatial thinking and inquiry-based learning, and environmental education and civic engagement work in helping advance the science of broadening participation in STEM fields.

Key words: place-based factors; inquiry-based pedagogy; service learning; spatial behavior; geography; STEM Fields; broadening participation

Introduction

In Pursuit of a Diverse and Expanded STEM Workforce

The demand for individuals with an educational background in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields has been rapidly growing in the career market (Rogers and Molina, 2006; Peckham, et al., 2007; Moss-Rascusin, Dovidio, Brescoll, Graham, and Handelsman 2012). For instance, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics the projected employment growth from 2010 to 2020 of geoscientists is 21 percent, environmental engineers is 22 percent, and computer systems analysts is 22 percent (U.S. Department of Labor, 2012). Yet, only about 300,000 students graduate with a bachelor or associate degree in a STEM field annually (President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, 2012). According to the U.S. Department of Labor (2012) the demand in the labor market for STEM careers is growing at a rate twice that for all occupations. They projected the growth rate for all occupations in the U.S. at only 11%. Most studies have also indicated that heterogeneity in the workforce is of growing importance due to the economic benefits it can provide (Rogers and Molina, 2006; Peckham, et al., 2007). Increasing diversity within work groups is said to promote creativity and effectiveness when solving problems and ultimately generating pertinent solutions for society as a whole since different perspectives are presented during development (Rogers and Molina, 2006; Peckham, et al., 2007). To increase workforce heterogeneity it is also beneficial to increase educational participation in STEM fields using effective strategies to not only recruit underrepresented groups but retain them as well (Rogers and Molina, 2006; Peckham, et al., 2007; Estaville, Akiwumi, and Montalvo, 2008; Moss-Rascusin et al., 2012).

Unfortunately, there has not been an increase in the production of STEM degrees to match this growing demand (Strayhorn, 2009a). In fact, the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology Report (2012) suggests a deficit of 1,000,000 workers over the next decade in the US workforce. Also, of the individuals who do obtain STEM degrees and careers within their educational field, women and minorities are highly underrepresented in these disciplines (Tsui, 2007; Estaville, Akiwumi, and Montalvo, 2008; Hoffman, Gneezy, and List 2009). According to Villarejo, Barlow, Kogan, Veazey, and Sweeney, (2008) women and minorities only represented 4.2 percent of the doctoral-level biomedical workforce in 2007. Hoffman, Gneezy, and List (2011) argue that women make up only 8.3 percent of math professors, 12.1 percent of chemistry professors, 6.6 percent of physics professors, and 6. …

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