Monday, April 4, 2011

Where are all the Latino Engineers?

Mommy Maestra is dedicating this entire week to Latino students who are interested in STEM careers. Parents, I hope you will find encouragement and resources to help your child pursue his or her dreams.

According to a 2008 report by the National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering, Latinos account for 13.1 percent of the U.S. labor force over 16 years of age – but they only account for a mere 5.8 percent of the engineering workforce.

So I guess the question of the day is: Where are all the Latino engineers?

Why is it that our children are not pursuing careers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, & Math) fields? Our girls, especially, seem to be almost nonexistent in these fields.

Is your child interested in math or science? If so, what are you doing about it? If not, why aren’t they? (And, again, what are you doing about it?)

As a science lover, parent, and teacher, here’s what I think about all of this:

In order for a child to take an interest in science or math, they first have to be exposed to it in a positive manner. ¿Qué dices? Your daughter shrieks in fear when she hears the word “math?” Your son hides in the closet when you pull out the science textbook? Then they haven’t been taught right. A good teacher engages the student and she makes learning fun. A teacher shows examples of math and science at work in every day things…and makes it mysterious and exciting.

Sitting at a desk reading about the water cycle is about as exciting as staring at a rock (unless it is a Petoskey stone, of course!). But creating a cloud in a bottle – ay, mama, watch out!

Hands-on activities are essential to learning. They ignite passion and spark the imagination. Pretty soon, it is not so much "How does…?” but “I wonder what will happen if…?” Don’t throw out those textbooks. But if your kid’s teacher isn’t backing up the lessons with activities and experiments, then get your gloves on, Papi, and find out what your child is supposed to be learning! You’ll be amazed at the number of experiments available online that can easily by carried out using common household materials.

A child who is not provided with opportunities to explore their ideas, will soon forget or simply abandon them. Once an interest is observed, it has to be nurtured.

Little Maria wants to know: What kind of nest material do birds use? Get out your binoculars (optional), put on your walking shoes, grab a local field guide (borrowed from the library, of course!) and get outside during a nice spring day. You can go to a nearby park, the local botanic gardens, or just look around your own backyard. Search in bushes, trees, under eaves, inside barns, and under bridges. For added fun, take a camera to record your results, or have Maria bring along a journal to record her discoveries. Call all your amigos and find out who has birds hanging around their place. Then arrange a visit. (¡Ay, no! It’s Maria’s mami calling again asking some crazy science questions!)

I’ll tell you right now that the single most influential factor on a child’s pursuit of a career (STEM or otherwise) is PARENTAL INVOLVEMENT.

But how can a parent encourage their children and provide them with opportunities? Especially if that parent does not understand the child’s interest. Here’s a good question: "How do I support and encourage my child to develop her/his talents or interests when I don't have any idea about this subject?"

It's true that parents have to do their research. They need to actively look for programs, contests, and other opportunities. It may be as simple as investing in a subscription to a science magazine, finding fun websites that support learning about a particular subject, monthly trips to the bookstore, signing them up for a local event, or even a library card.

Hey, try asking your child to teach you. I now know how much a person can learn once they are responsible for teaching it. Don't be afraid to say to your child, "Teach me…. and make it FUN!" Now THAT'S a challenge!

But the reality is that a parent doesn't have to know about the subject - although it certainly helps! All you really have to do is be there. Urge them to follow their dreams. ALL THE TIME. Encouraging and praising your child's interests and accomplishments does more than handing them a book or video. Alone, a child can feel hopeless and alone. But with the love of family, your child can make it all the way to the moon...and back.

Con mucho cariño…


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