Science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) are essential school subjects that provide a critical foundation for the way we think and act. STEM education has helped to create innovations that have positively impacted almost every part of human life and society.
While STEM professionals have helped society advance scientifically and technologically, the field is failing in its responsibility to advance society culturally and socially as it has been unable to successfully implement practices to diversify itself.
Why Diversity in STEM is Important
Progress in STEM requires professionals to consider every possible perspective of a problem to find a solution. Without diverse perspectives, entire fields and industries are limited in their ability to learn, understand and find solutions to problems – and STEM is no exception to this rule. Organizations that recognize this will be able to attract and retain the thoughtful talent necessary to out-innovate the competition and remain resilient even in the most difficult times. Not only that, but they will be fulfilling a responsibility that we all have as citizens to create a society inclusive in all its forms.
Yet despite these obvious benefits and the fact that the U.S. population has grown more diverse over the last few decades, the STEM industry’s diversity numbers reflect minimal improvements. According to data from the Pew Research Center, Hispanic and Black workers collectively represent just 17% of the STEM field, even though they constitute 28% of the overall workforce.
Additionally, a study published by the Education Researcher Journal shows that many talented Black and Hispanic students leave the STEM discipline. To boost diversity in STEM, the industry needs to increase awareness through community engagement and the creation of educational and career opportunities.
The White House’s Plan to Boost Diversity in STEM
The White House recently announced a new plan to combat racial inequities in the STEM field. The plan, known as the Interagency Roadmap to Support Space-Related STEM Education and Workforce, outlines the first actions the government is taking to boost interest, inclusion and diversity in the space industry.
The first phase of the Administration’s plan hinges on three key elements: highlighting the numerous career opportunities available in the space industry, providing more resources and improving diverse talent recruitment and retention strategies. To expand its efforts, the government shared that it is joining forces with several space-related organizations to support initiatives dedicated to finding and training talent for the future STEM workforce.
Some of the Administration’s major partners include Blue Origin, Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman. Additional industry partners include Amazon, Sierra Space, Space X and Code.org.
Robert F. Smith’s Philanthropic Efforts to Expand Access to STEM
While the government is making valiant efforts to improve the STEM workforce of today while better preparing for the future, advocates and philanthropists have simultaneously been working to mitigate racial disparities in STEM. One of the most prolific STEM philanthropists is the Founder, Chairman and CEO of Vista Equity Partners (Vista) Robert F. Smith.
Smith’s passion for STEM comes from his experience as an engineer after he graduated with his B.S. in Chemical Engineering from Cornell University. Early on in Smith’s 35+ year career, he explored STEM through several internships and with mentors that helped to create important opportunities for him.
As a result of the compassion and guidance he was shown, he’s always paid it forward by creating on-ramps to careers, particularly in STEM, for underserved communities. Some of Smith’s efforts to create opportunities for underserved communities in STEM include:
- Smith shepherded the creation of Student Freedom Initiative, a nonprofit organization that provides rising junior and senior college STEM students at participating colleges with an income-contingent school financing alternative.
- In 2016, Smith contributed $20 million to Cornell University’s College of Engineering and another $10 million in Tech Scholars scholarships for African Americans and women.
- In 2017, Vista gifted Code.org $3 million to train teachers to teach computer science and to increase access to computer science education in underserved schools.
- In 2022, Smith gifted another $15 million to Cornell University’s College of Engineering to establish funds that will support undergraduate students from underrepresented communities, as well as graduate students who attended Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs.