Friday, April 1, 2022

Making STEM Accessible and Fun Across All Cultures

Do you have a young STEM lover in your home? Are they absolutely in love with science, or building things, or math? If so, how do you nurture that love?

The majority of young children are fascinated by science, technology, engineering, and (yes) math - in their elementary school years. But something happens in middle school and students' interest begins to plummet - especially among girls, according to the National Science Teachers Assocation.

Even more disturbing is that the number of low-income students who pursue STEM careers is virtually non-existent.

By the time college (and beyond) rolls around, white male students make up the majority of STEM majors. Women make up 28% of the workforce. Hispanics account for just 8% of all STEM workers. And LATINAS only make up 3% of the STEM field. The percentages aren't much higher for other people of color, including Blacks (9%) and Asians (13%).

These numbers are very alarming. And important to note because it is communities of color that tend to be the most impacted ones by STEM-related issues. Here's just one example. Here's another one. And when there isn't someone there to represent and speak out on our behalf, we continue to suffer the consequences.

So what is happening? WHY does students' interest wane in middle school? And why is this apathy higher in low-income students?

There's a LOT going on here. Social media, social norms, peer pressure, school budgets, teachers, and so much more impacts student interest and engagement in STEM classes. So there isn't just one solution. And the solutions require a lot of creativity.

Christopher Emdin, PhD, is a professor of education at the University of Southern California. Dr. Emdin just released a new book called STEM, STEAM, Make, Dream: Reimagining the Culture of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. It is a great tool for making STEM more accessible to students of all cultures and socioeconomic backgrounds.

Dr. Emdin has graciously allowed me to share with you the following excerpt from his new book. I encourage all of you as educators and/or parents to think hard about ways to inspire your students and children.


How do we reimagine a better future for STEM education? We do it by connecting to aspects of the discipline that align with the human desire to imagine, create, and dream. At its best, STEM is about using what we previously knew to uncover, discover, or create what we don’t know or

what did not exist before. It is the imagination of those in STEM that moves them to pursue the mathematical and technical knowledge that brings their vision to fruition. Whether in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics, innovation is at the heart of STEM. It is also what is needed to recruit young people to these disciplines and move them to see possibilities for their own lives that they have never seen or that they have abandoned after the world has convinced them that those possibilities are impossible.

Activist and educator Marion Wright Edelman coined the phrase, “You can’t be what you can’t see.” These words are at the root of what drives STEM educators. We must recognize that in addition to awakening the spirit of young people, we need to show them what they can dream toward and beyond. Far too many young people are being inundated with images of themselves that are reactions of other people’s perceptions of them. Their sense of self has been shaped by society, and even their dreams are manipulated by reductive images from across media.

Astronaut Leland Melvin, when talking with me about STEM and his storied career as a professional athlete and astronaut, thought back to the moon landing in 1969. Despite the impact Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin had on the entire nation and our collective interest in STEM, Leland’s goal was not to be an astronaut. It was to be a tennis player.

He wanted to be the next Arthur Ashe. Armstrong and Aldrin were heroes that he could not see or touch. They did not look like him. They activated the imagination of the general society, but they did not do the same thing for him. Five blocks down the street from where he grew up, Arthur Ashe was practicing and learning how to play tennis. He could see Ashe winning tennis tournaments. Leland profoundly reiterated the sentiment behind Marian Wright Edelman’s words: “What you see, you can be.” This led me to think that if Ashe were a scientist or engineer—conducting experiments and getting recognition for his work in STEM, and if he were in close physical proximity to Leland Melvin, Leland’s goals from youth would have included a passion for STEM.

Leland’s story, though, becomes much more interesting precisely because he did become a STEM person. Despite not having a STEM hero in physical proximity, he found a way to dream and work into being an engineer, a football player, and an astronaut. I believe Arthur Ashe motivated Leland Melvin to dream, work hard, and pursue being a professional athlete. His presence made him dream. Even though Leland did not have a professional scientist around when he was younger, there was something that caused him to dream and to subsequently develop a passion for STEM. It was in the way he was introduced to the scientist and mathematician within. At home, he was told that even though he saw himself as Arthur Ashe, there was a science and mathematics to what Arthur Ashe did. He was able to carve out an identity that included STEM and dream it into fruition because he found that STEM was all

around him.

Leland remembers his mother giving him a non-OSHA-certified chemistry kit. The result? He blew up her living room. (Thankfully it wasn’t major, and everyone was safe.) This was a STEM experience at home—outside the classroom. It was an experience where home life triggered some excitement. The moment he saw the explosion, his brain was activated just as was when he saw Arthur Ashe.

Pick up your copy of STEM, STEAM, Make, Dream: Reimagining the Culture of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math today at your local library or bookstore. Or order it online:

Other STEM-Related Posts You May Enjoy:

Christopher Emdin, Ph.D.,
is the Robert A. Naslund Endowed Chair in Curriculum and Teaching and Professor of Education at the University of Southern California; where he also serves as Director of youth engagement and community partnerships at the USC Race and Equity Center. He previously served as Director of the Science Education program at Teachers College, Columbia University and alumni fellow at the Hip-hop archive and Hutchins Center at Harvard University. The creator of the #HipHopEd social media movement and Science Genius B.A.T.T.L.E.S., Emdin has previously been named Multicultural Educator of the Year by the National Association of Multicultural Educators, STEM Access Champion of Change by the White House and Minorities in Energy Ambassador for the US Department of Energy. He is the author of STEM, STEAM, Make, Dream (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), Ratchetdemic (Beacon Press), and For white folks who teach in the hood … and the rest of y’all too (Beacon Press).


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