Important Principles Involved in Considering Race and Ethnicity in STEM outreach

We have just approved an abstract for a SEAD White Paper

Addressing how in the USA science and engineering programs to attract

young people into science and engineering what are called “under-represented’

groups in the usa. Of course the majority of the planet is not male and anglo saxon  !!!! but in

many countries there are problems on how to encourage young people

of all backgrounds to enter careers in science and engineering. There are

strong societal biases built into our educational systems.
We accepted this white paper as a late submission because it filled a gap

in the topics covered by the 90 SEAD abstracts we have approved.


I would be interested to reactions, whithin the USA and internationally, to the

way this abstract is written, the underlying assumptions, the US view of things that

may read strangly in other places.


Please feel free to comment and I will forward the comments to the white paper coordinators:

Dr. Jerome Morris, University of Georgia
Dr. Alan Shaw, Kennesaw State University
Roger Malina





Important Principles Involved in Considering Race and Ethnicity
In STEM Outreach Initiatives
Dr. Jerome Morris, University of Georgia
Dr. Alan Shaw, Kennesaw State University

Addressing concerns related to race and ethnicity is one of the explicit goals of the Broadening Participation objectives in many of the NSF’s initiatives. Those objectives involve making good faith outreach efforts to groups that are underrepresented in the STEM fields. Along with women and persons with disabilities, the underrepresented groups include African Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans, Alaska Natives, and Pacific Islanders. This list of racial and ethnic minorities should make it clear that good faith outreach efforts should consider basic questions about what makes the racial and ethnic identities within these groups unique, and what is relevant about the circumstantial and historical realities faced by these groups. There are critical social, cultural, and policy issues to explore in order to provide a lens for understanding the relationship between culture, schooling and learning, as well as to apply such thinking to any approach to remedy the problem of underrepresentation. In order to address these issues, any outreach effort needs to (1) consider the dynamic interplay between macro forces (geography, economics, politics, race and ethnic forces) and micro forces (groups’ cultural patterns and beliefs) in influencing access to opportunities and the students’ choice to participate in the opportunities; (2) consider how culture emanates from structural forces, that culture is learned, and that people change cultural patterns and acquire new ones; and (3) consider the various groups who directly influence the particular cultures and cultural identities involved (e.g., family, school, religious communities) and how these different groups might play integral roles in outreach efforts.
Traditional STEM considerations that ignore issues of culture and identity at the macro and micro level are simply inadequate to fully address the problem of underrepresentation among specific racial and ethnic minorities. However, where traditional approaches fail, broader approaches that incorporate the arts and design within STEM activities offer a clear way forward. Two previous NSF funded initiatives are both a case in point. One sought to combine Native American culture and art with explorations of computer and computational science (NSF Award #CNS-0540484), and another sought to teach fundamental STEM paradigms using visual arts modules featuring African American artwork (NSF Award #HRD-0625731). These projects brought issues of “cultural resonance” into STEM curricula, and yet along with their successes, the projects also revealed a need to incorporate more hands-on design-related activities into the students’ experience. Incorporating cultural experiences along with the act of building something meaningful in a shared context touches on issues of identity in more ways than does just incorporating cultural content alone. The way forward involves moving from STEM to STEAM/SEAD initiatives that explicitly address issues of culture and identity and that involve the constructionist notion of building shared constructions. In this paper, we will provide a framework for how to examine and address these issues in practical ways, and we will offer suggested actions for implementation.

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