When my youngest sister turned two, I was adamant about substituting clothes and toy gifts, for books. I scoured through the one rack of the bilingual section bypassing the fairy tale and princess literature and skipping furry animal hardcovers. I wanted to find books that both of my sisters could see their faces represented in the people they read about. I wanted her to read about painter Frida Kahlo, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, pro golfer Nancy Lopez, poet and author Julia Alvarez, and labor leader Lucy González Parsons. Most importantly, I wanted them to see that they could do and be anything, even finding themselves in the faces of Luiz Walter Alvarez, a 1968 Nobel Peace Prize recipient for his discoveries in subatomic particles, or astronaut Ellen Ochoa, the first Hispanic Woman in Space, or even engineer Linda Garcia Cubero, the first Hispanic Female to Graduate from the Air Force Academy. Mr. Alvarez, Ms. Ochoa, and Ms. Garcia Cubero represent fields Latinos are severely unrepresented in—Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math or commonly known as STEM.
According to the U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee (JEC), between 2010 and 2020 the overall employment in STEM occupations will increase by 17 percent, yet not enough students are pursuing degrees and careers in the STEM fields. Hispanic students are currently the largest minority group in the public school system, but they score lower than national averages on math and science achievement tests and enroll at significantly lower levels. Hispanics are underrepresented in undergraduate and graduate STEM programs and are not sufficiently exposed to STEM subjects at the K-12 Levels.
Despite the lack of Latinos in STEM fields, the issue is not solely one of this minority group, it is a national problem. Only 16 percent of high school seniors in the U.S. are proficient in mathematics and interested in a STEM career. Even among those who do go on to pursue a college major in the STEM fields, only about half choose to work in a related career. Moreover, the United States ranks 25th in mathematics and 17th in science among industrialized nations depicting its severe lag.
It is crucial for children at all stages to be exposed to a number of different fields and interests in age appropriate ways. Wheelock College shows us how to respond to this need through its STEM initiatives. Elementary-age students can cultivate a love of STEM through a free first-of-its-kind mobile-accessible web application to engage them and their families in family-friendly STEM activities. STEM in the City Summer Camp is offered for rising 8th and 9th Graders and provides hands-on learning that links STEM curriculum to the real world via fun excursions to Boston-area companies, organizations, or field sites that highlight a variety of STEM disciplines. To top it all off, Wheelock College in partnership with Massachusetts General Hospital, the MGH Youth Scholars program, offers a STEM camp at Wheelock College for rising 10th grade Boston Public School students.
Expanding programming to provide an eclectic array of offerings around STEM is one way of responding to the need. Exposure is the first step. My disappointment at this bookstore and my refusal to bring home a pink book of ponies and princesses is not to deprive my sister of anything “girly”. To be quiet frank, I may have also been ignoring the reading age-levels imprinted on the back cover since its clear she’ll be doing more ripping than reading at the mature age of two. The end goal is not to force her into hating the color pink, it is about giving her a choice. The goal is for both of my sisters to have the chance to choose their trajectory in life, believing that the STEM field is a viable option.
Annysa Rodriguez is currently pursuing her Masters in Social Work at Boston College with a concentration in Children, Youth, and Families. An advocate for youth, Annysa has worked in numerous capacities from facilitating and running career development workshops to her current position as a College Success Advisor at Steps to Success where she works to enhance the educational outcomes of students. She is thrilled to be delving into more policy related work during her internship at Wheelock.