The Center for Urban Education at the University of Southern California has been releasing a series of reports about the need to increase the number of Latinos in STEM careers. The studies are supported by the National Science Foundation, which wants to spur more Hispanics to study science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
The most recent report, “Developing the Capacity of Faculty to Become Institutional Agents for Latinos in STEM,” emphasizes that beyond special programs targeting Latinos, individual university leaders or faculty often make the difference in increasing enrollments. Researchers interviewed 60 representatives of two- and four- year Hispanic-Serving Institutions.
The report profiles two faculty members. The first is a university college of engineering dean who wanted to boost the number of Latino transfers from the local community college. He understood the students’ backgrounds because he, too was a first-generation Latino college student. He worked to bring together STEM faculty from the college and university to create a STEM curriculum and transfer agreement.
“Rather than focus solely upon fostering change at his own institution, [the dean] used his influence and authority to create a formal curriculum relationship between the two schools for the benefit of Latino students in the area,” the CUE report notes. “Curricular articulation agreements are notoriously difficult to draft because of academic governance practices and the sheer number of stakeholders involved; they thus require substantial commitment on the part of institutional leaders who must mobilize others to reach agreements and complete the necessary work.”
In a second case, the study mentions a mathematics professor and department chair at a four-year Hispanic-Serving Institution in the Southwest. He noticed fellow faculty were frustrated dealing with Latino students who struggled with lab work. He created a “Summer Lab Boot Camp,” to expose Latinos to computer science, biology, chemistry and physics labs. In addition to preparing them for lab classes before they enrolled, the program also created a sense of community.
“[He] understands that not all faculty members may have the patience, awareness, or interest to assist students who need the extra support,” the report says. “The program initiated students into the culture of science and gives them a headstart.”
The center makes a number of recommendations for program administrators including that faculty be rewarded who support Latino students, faculty be diverse, and that faculty include Latino students in undergraduate research opportunities or conference presentations; and that student data be disaggregated by ethnicity.
The science foundation is pushing forward its agenda to push more students into these majors. But The Washington Post recently highlighted that pushing them into PhD programs in these areas may not be the best idea, since there aren’t necessary jobs there. Not all STEM careers are created equal, and some tracks can be more lucrative than others, such as engineering.