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Branching out on STEM Education

Recently scientists and science enthusiasts were excited to witness the first ever image of a black hole, thanks to the good work of Dr. Katherine Bouman, a 29-year-old scientist who created the algorithm behind the photo. This remarkable achievement highlights the importance of new voices in a field that has historically been lacking in diversity.

Technology has done a great deal for innovation, education, and creativity. It has created economic opportunity through entrepreneurship and provided avenues for success across all industries. Yet, while the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) field is growing, gaps in its accessibility persist for women and people of color.

Millions of students live in STEM deserts, rural and urban areas that lack quality STEM education and fail to engage students with math and science curricula. Rural areas in particular face major obstacles in access to quality STEM education, including attracting STEM educators. Children who do not experience STEM early may be less likely to develop an interest in the subjects. It is also very difficult for rural people, especially people experiencing poverty, to get trained for STEM jobs.

While STEM fields may be booming in terms of opportunity, it's clear these opportunities are not equally accessible. Further, communities of color are still heavily underrepresented in STEM jobs. According to the Smithsonian Science Education Center, fewer than 3% of Latinx individuals, 3% of African Americans, and 3% of Native Americans and Alaska Natives hold university degrees in STEM fields. While women may make up nearly 60% of the professional workforce, they comprise less than half of science professionals, less than a quarter of computer and math professionals, and only 15% of engineering professionals.

A bipartisan group of legislators are attempting to bridge this gap. They introduced the Building Blocks of STEM Act (SB 737/HB 1665) this month.

Here is what this bill would do:

  • Direct the National Science Foundation (NSF) STEM education program to more equitably distribute funding for early childhood education in its Discovery Research PreK-12 program.
  • Direct the NSF to award research grants to increase the participation of young girls in computer science.

The Building Blocks of STEM Act would help uncover ways to create interest in STEM as well as opportunity regardless of gender, race, class, or geography. As parents, we have to prepare all kids, and all of our communities, to work in tomorrow's economy. You can reach out to your representatives and let them know you believe the Building Blocks of STEM Act is a step in the right direction in ensuring that the STEM field, while full of opportunity, is available for every child who takes interest in it.

Jennifer Peters
Jen Peters (she/her) is the Senior Advocacy Manager at Common Sense Media, where she supports the organization's advocacy campaigns and initiatives on various issues related to kids and technology. Jen previously managed public safety and community aquatic programs for the University of California, Berkeley and the East Bay Regional Park District. As an Americorps member, she oversaw education-based programs for Playworks Northern California. Jen was born and raised in the Bay Area, and has a bachelor's degree in Human Development, with a focus on women's development, from California State University, East Bay.