Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Four Reasons Latino Parents Don't Encourage Their Children to Pursue STEM Fields

Recently, two colleagues of mine have been invited to speak on this subject – one at a conference, and the other to Latino parents of 7th and 8th grade girls. One of them asked what kinds of questions we thought parents would have for helping their daughter to become a “rocket scientist.” The other wanted to know if our children were interested in careers in Tech or Innovation fields (doctors, scientists, engineers, etc...) She also asked if we believe schools prepare Latino children to develop interest in tech/innovation careers? And how would we improve outreach?

Here are some of the reasons that I think some Latino parents hesitate to encourage their children in these areas:

Lots of familias don't think girls should be good at math and/or science. They say this is "man's work." Or maybe families worry about pushing girls into a field previously associated with boys. Either way, I think it is really important to give some examples of successful Latinas who have entered these fields.

- One great resource comes from Women of Color Magazine, which ran an article that featured three Latina Engineers.

- Take a look at Shayla Rivera, aerospace engineer turned comedian. (How’s that for a twist?)

- Latina Women of NASA; or for a more personal article, Johnson Space Center has a feature on two Latinas team members.

- Latino youth in general, will appreciate this really good page on that features Famous Hispanic Inventors

Culturally, young Latinas are oftentimes expected to grow up and care for their parents. Parents may be worried that their daughter will move far away away from home to pursue a higher education or career in a STEM field. To be honest, I think this is a fear that all parents have for all of their children, be it boys or girls. But this fear tends to affect Latino families more because there is such a strong emphasis on family relationships.

Many parents worry that they just don't have the money to pay for the education that their children need to enter these fields. How about taking a hand-out with a list of scholarships, programs, and financial aid for students in this area?

Here is a list from the Hispanic Scholarship Fund that shares a wide range of scholarships available for Latino students.

Parents who are not strong in math or science may wonder how they can provide support. You don’t have to know everything about the subject. I think many parents feel as though they need to be equals with their children or be more knowledgeable. But it’s really okay to let your child know more about something. My son is four and already he knows more about dinosaurs than I could ever dream of knowing! What do I do? Supply him with books. Lots and lots of books. And I ask questions. And I listen.

You can support your child by taking the time to learn even just a little bit about what fascinates them. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Your children will love that you care enough to ask and to at least try to understand what inspires them. And it builds confidence. Allowing them to be the teacher helps them to develop a sense of pride.

Simply showing them that you are there to help in any way means more than being able to sit down and have an intellectual conversation with them. Urging them to follow their dreams and praising your child's interests will be the one thing that they remember. And it may be all they need to succeed. With the love of family, your child can accomplish miracles.

How would I improve outreach? I would be sure that every school had at least one person on staff whose only job was to communicate with parents. To help them help their own children. To provide resources in English AND Spanish for those that need it. Because we don’t have all the answers. We don’t always know the best way to support our kids. But we do the best that we can. And we love them. Our job is to do whatever we need to do to help them find their way.

Con mucho cariño…


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