We Need More Latinos Involved In Math & Science

By Jean Rockford Aguilar-Valdez

I have a proposition for us Latinos. A revolution of sorts, and one that is ripe for the making: Latinos need to become a force to be reckoned with in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM).

A recent report showed that over the past 10 years, jobs in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) grew three times faster than jobs in other fields, a trend that is only likely to continue. Further, people with jobs in these fields are less likely to be unemployed, earn 26% more than those in other fields, and are in high demand by employers in the U.S. With such wonderful prospects, you’d think everyone would be climbing over themselves to major in these fields and to take these high-paying, high-status jobs with such job security and potential for future growth. Not so.

In spite of the fact that in other arenas, job prospects have been dim, the amount of openings in STEM-related careers continues to increase, and yet the pool of qualified applicants continues to remain low. The shortage of those applying for STEM-related jobs has caused national concern, which has not escaped the attention of even President Obama.

In our increasingly global, interconnected, and technologically-driven society, the demand is high for those with drive and talent for innovation in the sciences, technology, engineering, and math. So much of our future is dependent on there being a large workforce of creative and dedicated minds, to maintain our technological way-of-life and fuel its growth.

Yet, of those who currently inhabit the STEM workforce, the majority is largely white and male and this trend is similar for those majoring in STEM. Latinos represent only 4% of those in STEM. It has long been the case that minorities, especially Latinos, have been grossly underrepresented in STEM. This kind of under-representation not only hurts the economic and social viability of Latinos as a whole, but also becomes a vicious cycle, where young Latinos do not see role models in STEM, and so do not feel welcome there. Further, the lack of Latinos in STEM makes the chances that the knowledge and skills gained from such fields will not be “brought back” into the Latino community. Latinos are then left without examples or benefits of the burgeoning STEM field that others, like middle to upper class whites, are reaping. But things are changing, and there is a golden opportunity before us.

50.5 million Latinos are currently in the U.S. (unofficial numbers are likely way more), and more than half of the nation’s growth in the last 10 years was comprised of Latinos, whose numbers grew four times faster than the U.S. population as a whole. Furthermore, 23.1% of U.S. children under the age of 17, are Latino, making Latinos the largest minority group in the country (And most of this growth is of U.S. citizens, not immigrants).

When 1 in 5 of the children in our schools is Latino, what justification is there for saying that STEM is only for the white, male, and middle- or upper-class? The demographics of the U.S. are changing, and with it we are faced with two options:

1.) Leave STEM to the disproportionally represented white population (and the associated stereotype that only white nerdy boys go into that field) and thus allow the STEM shortage to continue without Latinos enjoying the career-related benefits.

2.) Claim STEM as our own, as a field that can benefit from the strength of our numbers, perspectives, connections, and understandings; bringing to the Latino community all the economic, social, and intellectual power that the field of STEM affords to modern society.

Guess which one I recommend?

Jean Rockford Aguilar-Valdez is a doctoral student studying equity in science education and a former science teacher.

[Photo By Guillermo Cabrera-Rojo]

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