By Juliana Ospina Cano, Escalera STEM Manager, NCLR
By 2020, six years from now, more than two million science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) jobs will go unfilled if youth are not prepared to succeed in a competitive STEM-driven economy. At the moment, Latinos represent 15% of the overall workforce, but only 7% of the STEM workforce.
Latino underrepresentation is directly linked to lack of exposure and students’ attitudes toward STEM education. Too often, we hear students say “Math is too hard;” “I was told I don’t have what it takes;” or “I like science but I don’t think I’m smart enough.” These comments are a reflection of the STEM-deficit mindset that lives in the Latino community. To address part of the STEM disparity, NCLR has formalized a STEM readiness program that seeks to expose Latino youth to STEM disciplines. Aligned to the Common Core State Standards and culturally relevant to Latino students, NCLR STEM programs lead students to develop a STEM mindset, one that encourages problem-solving, creativity, and innovation.
NCLR STEM currently houses four main programs to bolster youth’s interest in STEM disciplines. With support from the National Science Foundation and the Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science, CHISPA (Children Investigating Science with Parents and Afterschool) engages students in early STEM education. In collaboration with ASPIRA, NCLR works with 19 Affiliates and 11 national science museums to provide culturally relevant STEM curricula in elementary schools across the country. This innovative program blends science instruction with a family engagement piece. With this two-fold approach, CHISPA exposes students to STEM after school and parents through the newly developed family engagement curriculum Padres Comprometidos con CHISPA. The programs address two of the main challenges in STEM education: early exposure to STEM and family engagement.
At the middle school level, NCLR focuses on STEM family education with its Padres Comprometidos, STEM at Home program. The program introduces Latino families to STEM education and cultivates interest by tapping into parents’ background knowledge. It’s not uncommon to meet Latino parents who are immediately turned off by math and science, as many of them had negative experiences in their own schooling. Padres Comprometidos, STEM at Home reintroduces STEM by building relevant awareness by providing concrete examples of STEM in our daily lives. In this program, families regain a positive attitude toward these disciplines while learning critical skills on how to successfully advocate for their children at school.
As an extension of the Escalera Program, Escalera STEM exposes high school juniors and seniors to STEM disciplines through inquiry-based instruction, exploratory activities, and engagement with STEM professionals. The newly developed STEM curriculum validates Latino’s attitudes toward STEM education and challenges STEM disengagement and family expectations as students analyze relevant data regarding current and future market projections. Given the overwhelming request to expand the Escalera STEM network, NCLR is pleased to announce a STEM education training this month in Houston, Texas.
The last component of the NCLR STEM initiative includes NCLR’s first STEM Youth Summit. This event will bring more than 150 high school students, STEM professionals, and community partners with the purpose of exposing students to STEM education.
As stated by President Obama, “American students must move from the middle to the top of the pack in science in math” and in order to achieve this goal, students need to have equitable and accessible resources to enable them to navigate their current STEM world, and the possibilities that lie ahead. NCLR invites its Affiliates to join the STEM network to boost and develop a competitive Latino-STEM-oriented workforce.