NACME in the News

We need more STEM experts in Massachusetts classrooms: Guest viewpoint

February 13, 2015Summer Camps-STEM

This undated photo provided by Destination Science shows, teacher Suman VonWolzogen, second left, and young campers "Observing Sublimation" at Destination Science Camp in Fullerton, Calif. STEM summer camps, focusing on science, technology, engineering and math, are more popular and plentiful than ever. (AP Photo/Destination Science, Jon C. Haverstick)


By Erin Dukeshire

In early September, my sixth grade students gathered together to watch, wide-eyed, as I used a hair dryer to float a Ping-Pong ball in mid-air. Shouts of "Can I try that?" quickly made way to more sophisticated questioning, with students wondering what would happen if they changed the temperature of the hair dryer's air, or whether they could float the ball using their own breath. This lesson is among my favorite of the year because it provides my first glimpse at the science skills students bring to our class.

The lesson also gives me a sense of our work for the year. The vague language in the first week's observations will be replaced by scientific vocabulary, and students will learn to clarify and investigate their questions about the floating ball. Then in June, I'll cross my fingers, hoping that these thoughtful, inquisitive students will have the opportunity to engage in great science classes for each of the six years remaining before high school graduation.

In Massachusetts, where science and technology innovations contribute greatly to our economy, identity, and pride, improving educational opportunities in these fields seems especially important. While recent National Assessment of Educational Progressresults show our students to be among the top performers in the country, only 42% of Massachusetts eighth graders scored proficient on the 2014 Science MCAS. The remaining 61% of students were unable to correctly answer two thirds of the test questions. Though a test is just one measure of science achievement, proficiency on that test is one of the prerequisites for success in high school science. We're lucky to have excellent teachers with science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) content expertise in Massachusetts classrooms inspiring the next generation of biologists and computer scientists. However, we need many more to ensure that all kids across the Commonwealth have access to the excellent STEM education that will get them on track to choose science careers.

One of the most important steps we can take to strengthen STEM education is to invest in our teachers. This year, a partnership between Teach For America-Massachusetts and the Biogen Idec Foundation will focus on the recruitment, training, and support new STEM teachers across Massachusetts. I'm excited about the partnership because I believe that Teach For America's model of recruiting a diverse group of teachers - many who majored in STEM fields in college or who have had professional STEM experience - draws STEM subject matter experts into classrooms.

To boost the number of people with STEM expertise choosing to teach, it's critical that we show our undergraduate science majors that teaching is a meaningful, impactful, and valued career pathway that offers endless challenges and rewards as they utilize their specialized training and breadth of knowledge every day. I've seen that my biology studies in college have informed my teaching every day, from weighing the importance of concepts when time runs short to designing engaging lessons around scientific practices like collaboration and observation. Undergraduate studies in STEM are not the only components of an effective science teacher, and not all effective science teachers formally studied STEM, but it's a valuable resource here in Massachusetts we must tap.

Because teacher shortages in STEM subjects are more likely to impact low-income communities of color, increasing our STEM teaching ranks is another necessary step to improving representation of low-income and minority students in advanced studies and careers in science. Too often, low-income students, students of color, and English Language Learners, like my students, have inequitable access to STEM opportunities.

In turn, limited access to higher level coursework contributes to a lack of diversity in STEM careers.The American Physical Societyreported that less than 10% of physics degrees were awarded to students of color in 2012. According to a NACME study, only 3% of engineers identify as African American. These numbers are even harder to digest when I experience my students' enthusiasm for science, only to think of how that may fade if it is not nurtured. Educators with demonstrated experience and passion for STEM learning can continue to foster the same excitement in our students, and give them the opportunity to become the next generation of STEM leaders in Massachusetts.

During a MassBio Candidate Forum this fall, Governor Charlie Baker said we need to ask the people who are "really good at doing STEM education" to help others understand how to expand great STEM education to every child. Let's take it one step further and recruit and train more of those experts to lead our science classrooms. No student deserves to be shut out of a career in our thriving STEM economy because we offer them inadequate preparation during their pre-K-12 years. And with the inclusion of a more diverse group of thinkers engaged in science and technology careers, innovation in Massachusetts is bound to thrive.

Erin Dukeshire teaches sixth grade science at Orchard Gardens K-8 Pilot School in Roxbury. An alumna of Teach For America, Erin became a teacher after studying biology at Bowdoin College, and after years of watching her parents teach in public schools in Agawam, Ludlow, and for the Lower Pioneer Valley Educational Collaborative. She is a 2012 Presidential Awardee for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching.

 

Ranking Member Johnson Introduces STEM Opportunities Act

 

 
January 22,2015
 
Today Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) introduced H.R. 467, the STEM Opportunities Act of 2015. The legislation is similar to legislation she has introduced several Congresses in a row, including H.R. 1358 in the 113th Congress.
 
Ms. Johnson said, "The evidence keeps mounting that it is critical to our Nation's economic leadership and global competitiveness that we educate and train more scientists and engineers. A wave of retirements is about to hit many of our industries and government agencies that employ scientists and engineers, and we are likely to face acute shortages in certain sectors in particular. In the meantime, research shows that women and underrepresented minorities, who by 2050 will comprise more than 50 percent of our population, are disproportionately lost at every transition point in their STEM studies and research careers. Despite years of talking about such disparities and even taking steps in an effort to address them, underrepresentation of women and minorities remains high in most STEM fields. As a Nation, we cannot afford to continue hemorrhaging so much talent."
 
H.R. 467 would require federal agencies that fund scientific research to collect more comprehensive demographic data on the recipients of federal research awards and on STEM faculty at U.S. universities (while protecting individuals' privacy); promote data-driven research on the participation and trajectories of women and underrepresented minorities in STEM so that policy makers can design more effective policies and practices to reduce barriers;  develop, through the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), consistent federal policies for recipients of federal research awards who have caregiving responsibilities, including care for a newborn or newly adopted child, and consistent federal guidance to grant reviewers and program officers on best practices to minimize the effects of implicit bias in the review of federal research grants; require the National Science Foundation (NSF) to develop and disseminate guidance to universities to aid them in identifying any cultural and institutional barriers limiting the recruitment, retention, and achievement of women and minorities in research careers and developing and implementing current best practices for reducing such barriers; require OSTP to develop and issue similar guidance to all federal laboratories; and authorize NSF to award grants to universities to implement or expand research-based practices targeted specifically to increasing the recruitment and retention of minority students and faculty.
 
Ms. Johnson said of the legislation, "In developing this legislation, we solicited extensive input from governmental and non-governmental stakeholders to ensure that the guidance and requirements reflect today's needs and opportunities. The result is a bill that attempts to systematically address the full suite of issues facing both female and minority STEM researchers, from work-life balance policies, to campus climate, to better data collection, to recruitment and retention practices. The bill includes not just researchers at universities but also researchers at our federal laboratories. Finally, the bill includes research components to increase our understanding of the career trajectories of women and minorities in STEM research careers."
 
In 2014, Ms. Johnson also joined Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) in asking the GAO to review the current state of demographic data collection and policies to promote inclusion at a number of federal science agencies. That study is currently underway and should be completed in 2015.
 
Ms. Johnson continued, "The GAO study will give us a much better starting point from which to identify and address unjustified disparities in data collection and inclusion policies across our federal agencies. Based on what we've heard so far, I expect the final report will unambiguously reinforce the need for this legislation. I hope we can make this a bipartisan bill and move it through this Congress. Making sure we are engaging all of the talent of this country in STEM degrees and careers should not be a partisan issue."
 
Original cosponsors include Katherine Clark (D-MA); Ruben Hinojosa (D-TX); Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC); Mark Takano (D-CA); Marc Veasey (D-TX); Joseph Kennedy III (D-MA); Mike Honda (D-CA); Zoe Lofgren (D-CA); Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR); Louise Slaughter (D-NY); Danny Davis (D-IL); Donna Edwards (D-MD); and Rosa DeLauro (D-CT). The bill is also been endorsed by several organizations:
 
"In order for the US to remain a leader in the STEM fields, it is crucial to fully engage the entire STEM talent pool and make sure that everyone, regardless of gender or ethnicity, is able to fully participate at all levels," said Karen Horting, CEO of the Society of Women Engineers. "We must embrace and encourage all women and underrepresented minorities who have a passion for these fields and do what we can to support them, remove obstacles and maximize their contributions to the nations STEM needs. H.R. 467 offers crucial provisions towards this end by supporting research on the participation of women, increasing awareness of implicit bias, promoting best practices and encouraging accountability through data collection."
 
American Society of Mechanical Engineers President J. Robert Sims said, "By improving the participation of women and other underrepresented groups in the STEM workforce, the U.S. can leverage the diversity of these individuals to fuel the innovation necessary for our global competitiveness, as well as meet the challenges of a changing world."
 
"My organizationNational Action Council for Minorities in Engineering, Inc. (NACME) recently celebrated four decades of progress in leading the national effort to increase the representation of successful African American, American Indian, and Latino women and men in engineering education and careers," said Dr. Irving Pressley McPhail, President and CEO of NACME. "Since 1977, the percentage of all engineering degrees earned by underrepresented minorities has dramatically increased from 5.7% to 13.4%. Yet, this metric pales in comparison to the growing percentage of underrepresented minorities in the U.S. population. Much work remains to realize NACME's vision of an engineering workforce that looks like America. This is why NACME salutes Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson for the introduction of the STEM Opportunities Act of 2015. This Bill must get the attention and support of the Congress and the Administration if our great nation is to retain its preeminence in innovation, invention, and entrepreneurship in STEM." 
 
 
 

Moving Minorities Into Engineering Through Education

December 22, 2014

Listen to Dr. McPhail's interview on EduTalkRadio"Moving Minorities into Engineering Through Education"

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