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The Bridge on STEM Education: Progress and Prospects

bridge cover
Type: Article
Author(s): National Academy of Engineering
Published: 2013
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The Bridge 43.1, Spring 2013
Contents Include:

Promoting Access to Undergraduate STEM Education: The Legal and Policy Environment, Liliana M. Garces and Lorelle L. Espinosa
Greater diversity in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields not only sets the stage for a robust 21st century workforce but also contributes to educational and research environments that reflect and draw on diverse perspectives for stronger science (NAS/NAE/IOM 2011). But women and America’s fast-growing racial and ethnic populations remain highly underrepresented in these fields. Higher education policies that have historically expanded access and opportunity for underrepresented minorities and women on college campuses have included the consideration of race, ethnicity, and/or gender as an “affirmative” factor in admissions. Such policies, however, are the target of legal and public debate that compels new thinking about complementary strategies to help widen the pipeline of diverse students who will pursue STEM studies and careers.

In this article, we provide an overview of the current status of underrepresented minorities (URMs) and women in US STEM higher education and of the shifting legal and policy climates surrounding affirmative action policies at colleges and universities nationwide. We make the point that—given the uncertain future of race-conscious admissions policies, declines in racial and ethnic diversity at postsecondary institutions in states that have banned affirmative action, and the negative long-term consequences of these declines for the nation—institutions must explore alternative strategies for increasing participation and careers in STEM. For many students, access and exposure to college environments and supportive role models and mentors can make a world of difference for expanding access to STEM fields, so we describe promising outreach and partnership strategies at the college and K–12 levels.

Engineering Diversity: Fixing the Educational System to Promote Equity, Lindsey E. Malcom-Piqueux and Shirley M. Malcom
Significant investments have been made over the past several decades to enhance the nation’s science and engineering workforce by broadening participation in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) and related fields. Thanks to these efforts, the numbers of women and African American, Latino, and American Indian men earning bachelor’s degrees in STEM fields have generally increased (NSF 2011). But these groups are still highly underrepresented in many STEM disciplines.1 In this article we address the persistent underrepresentation of minority men and of women from all racial/ethnic groups in engineering education and careers.

Although diversifying the engineering workforce requires intervention at all educational levels and at the critical transition from higher education to the workforce, we argue that the lack of diversity in the engineering workforce arises from the experiences of these populations long before they enter college. Such experiences include differences in (1) access to appropriate coursework and quality education inputs (e.g., good teachers, laboratories); (2) expectations, and career information and counseling; and (3) engineering-related experiences outside of schooling. These “opportunity gaps” contribute to both disparate levels of academic preparation to pursue an engineering degree and knowledge gaps related to awareness of engineering as a profession, conceiving of oneself as an engineer, and understanding what it takes to get there. We conclude by outlining ways to surmount these challenges through the purposeful actions of educators, policymakers, higher education institutions, and professional organizations in partnership with members of the engineering profession.

The full Spring Issue of the Bridge is available on the NAE website.


Freely Available