Magazine article American Scientist

How to Engage More African Americans in STEM

Magazine article American Scientist

How to Engage More African Americans in STEM

Article excerpt

What could help more African Americans participate in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM)? Sigma Xi hosted a Google Hangout to discuss solutions to this aspect of the STEM diversity gap. The following are main points from that conversation, edited for length.

1. Isolation can be a barrier to keeping African Americans in STEM.

Melanie Harrison Okoro: In particular for [Earth system science], there are not a lot of women of color, and it could have been a point of isolation for me. As a graduate student, I thought, "I don't know if this is the career path for me," because it played such a large role in my perception of the community, the science, and the support behind it. Because I was able to go through the Minorities Striving and Pursuing Higher Degrees of Success in Earth System Science program as well as other programs-such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Graduate Sciences program and the National Science Foundation's Research Experiences for Undergraduates program-I had the support to continue in a field that I absolutely love and to own it, not feel isolated in it.

2. A supportive network can help students overcome isolation.

Danielle Lee: A network is something you build before you need it. You need to think about cultivating genuine relationships, not just with your professors, but also consider teaching assistants, students who are senior to you, and those in different majors or courses. What the network does is expand your reach to get information about opportunities. I recommend undergraduate students join at least one club in your major as well as one that goes across multiple disciplines. Professors can encourage students to participate in these clubs, to try out a research experience, and invite students to seminars.

Ashanti Johnson: One of my mentors told me you have a composite mentor. …

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