Enabling Diversity in STEM with Undecided College Students

Published 06/01/2023
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undecided student

While diversity in STEM has been a long-discussed initiative, true progress is sometimes slow-moving and multi-faceted. In 2021, Hispanic, Asian, and Black STEM workers comprised only 15%, 9%, and 8% of the workforce, respectively. While making up 51% of the U.S. population, women only accounted for 28% of STEM occupations. Companies have made significant monetary, resource, and initiative investments in diversifying the STEM workforce as a more well-rounded technology workforce creates better products.

Diversity in tech has numerous benefits; more well-rounded thought goes into new solutions, ultimately creating better products. Like-minded workers aren’t simply participating in groupthink but are challenged and questioned outside their comfort zone. Workers can also solve complex problems faster in a diverse group vs. a homogenous group. When team members have different backgrounds, perspectives, worldviews, and biases, more inclusive computing products are created, creating a symbiotic effect that brings more diversity into technology usage.

Diversity in STEM Outlook

Increasing diversity in STEM begins in the earliest stages of education, which requires more time and resource commitment. More elementary and middle school-aged children from different school systems are seeing computing and STEM extracurriculars and classes pop up in their learning.

However, for girls, interest in STEM declines around middle school, with only 31% identifying computer science as an interest. This interest takes another hit in high school and college, increasing to 48% and then 58% — meaning at the prime age for deciding on a future career, almost 60% of women have already opted out of STEM. Similarly, roughly 225,000 Black and Latino students are shut out of AP STEM courses due to accessibility, despite showing an interest. For example, they make up less than 1% of AP Chemistry students, though 40% of Black and Latino students are interested in STEM before college. Still, funding inequalities, educator bias, and racialized tracking make it challenging to keep up with peers regarding pre-college prep.

Early college courses in computer science are one of the best ways to tap into a tentatively interested yet undecided recruitment pool is early college courses in computer science. For various reasons, students have opted to take a programming or engineering course, and the time is right to encourage and cultivate their interests. More work needs to be put into encouraging these diverse genders and races in early computer science courses, whether that includes more diverse mentorship.

Learn more about proposed solutions for increasing diversity in STEM in “An Untapped Recruitment Pool: Undecided Students in CS1 Courses.”

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