STEM Lessons for Historically Underrepresented Students

It’s no secret that STEM subjects are dominated by white men. But in our increasingly diverse world, can STEM fields evolve to become more inclusive? It’s certainly in the realm of possibility, especially if diligent educators help connect real-world scenarios to STEM-related lesson plans.

Ethnic and racial minorities, as well as women, may need extra encouragement when entering job fields that have been historically dominated by white males. STEM recruitment efforts, therefore, must become more inclusive, and they should begin at a young age. The numbers are telling: As of 2015, white men held 49% of science and engineering jobs. Further, Asian, black, and Hispanic populations are vastly underrepresented in the same industries, accounting for only 22% of workers.

According to Concordia University, STEM’s diversity problem is rooted in income inequality and a lack of educational resources among certain demographics. For instance, students in the country’s poorest high schools typically lack access to computer classes and hands-on science labs. Low-income students, particularly those in rural communities, may also lack home computers or internet access, making it difficult to complete homework assignments or research STEM topics.

With all the roadblocks that remain in place within scientific and mathematical fields, how can educators help underrepresented groups gain ground? For starters, you can demonstrate the practical applications of STEM subjects with hands-on projects and classroom activities. And as finances may be an issue for underrepresented students looking to pursue higher education, you may also want to provide information on scholarships for STEM majors.

Introducing Real-Life STEM Applications

The introduction of real-life, project-based lessons to your syllabus may have two positive results:

  • Hands-on learning may help make esoteric scientific concepts more tangible, improving student performance.
  • Project-based lessons may also serve to get students more invested in their communities, fostering strong neighborhood ties.

An excellent example of hands-on learning through real-life STEM applications is the online coding educational program offered by CoderZ. This allows students to immerse themselves in real-world issues such as robotics, learning invaluable and versatile STEM skills along the way.

Another example of a project that’s linked to real-world discussions is to have students survey their neighbors and city politicians about local energy sources. Students can ask their subjects to weigh the pros and cons of different sources of electricity, such as solar energy, fossil fuels, and nuclear power.

They should research the projected energy output of various energy sources, as well as cost and environmental impact. Then, your entire classroom can actively discuss the types of energy sources that are common in the U.S., which is reportedly the world’s second-largest energy consumer.

The STEM/Pop Culture Connection

Popular culture may also provide an avenue for encouraging underrepresented students towards STEM subjects. For instance, classroom screenings of films like 2019’s “See You Yesterday” may help bridge the gap when it comes to STEM education and minorities. At the center of the Netflix-produced film are two science-savvy black teens who dream of getting into an Ivy League school and spend their summer vacation working diligently to build a time travel prototype.

Racial tension and personal tragedy are part of their story as well, and your historically underrepresented students may strongly relate to the young protagonists. The film may well serve as a unique introduction to concepts like engineering and coding, as well as help to remove some of the stigmas that often surrounds STEM subjects. Consider following the film with a coding lesson. Challenge your students to create something extraordinary.

Critics have praised the messages of “See You Yesterday,” especially when it comes to the positive portrayal of inner-city minority populations. Anne Cohen, writing for Refinery29, states, “Seeing two Black teens, one of them a woman, taking time — with all the history of oppression and injustice that it symbolizes — into their own hands, feels revolutionary on its own.”

Opportunities for Higher Learning

While a STEM-based college education can lead to ample job opportunities in exciting fields, a degree may be out of reach for minorities and others among the underrepresented. College costs are on the rise, and studies indicate that STEM majors, such as engineering and the physical sciences, cost around twice as much as a major in business or library science.

But there is hope for minority and low-income students looking for educational opportunities, despite high tuition costs across the U.S. Educators should encourage disadvantaged students to apply for as many scholarships as possible. Scholarships are sometimes offered only to a particular group of people, such as racial minorities, females, and even undocumented immigrants.

There’s also a variety of scholarship opportunities for those who are underrepresented and pursuing a degree in computer science, technology, engineering, or math fields. The Golden Door Scholarship and Great Minds in STEM are two notable examples.

Today’s workforce is more diverse than ever, and there’s no reason for STEM fields to fall behind. The duty of the modern teacher is to give every student the tools for success, no matter their gender, religion, racial background, or income level. This is why it’s CoderZ mission to provide an affordable and accessible program that teachers can incorporate into their classrooms, thus fostering more diversity and inclusivity in future STEM career seekers.

About The Author

JoriHamilton is a writer and journalist from the Pacific Northwest who covers social justice issues, education, and politics. You can follow her work on twitter @HamiltonJori, through her portfolio or through LinkedIn.