DRAFT: This module has unpublished changes.
Improving participation of underrepresented racial/ethnic minorities in Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines.


The paper is a literature review of different models and approaches needed to improve participation of underrepresented racial/ethnic minorities in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Project SYNCERE (Supporting Youth's Needs with Core Engineering Research Experiments) is a Chicago-based nonprofit organization that aims to spread awareness of STEM programming to youth in under-served communities. The goal is not necessarily to increasing the quantity, but also the quality of underrepresented minorities’ (URM) participation in STEM fields. This paper will seek to identify most effective and/or promising programs in increasing STEM diversity at the various degree and early professional levels. This will help identify what is known and what need to be known about what works to diversify the participation of underrepresented minorities in STEM disciplines.   


This topic has become an important concern within our nation. The number of females and underrepresented minorities are low in both college-level STEM degrees and in the national STEM workforce. According to the National Science Foundation (NSF), women make up 46% of the total workforce but hold only 24% of jobs in technical or STEM fields. African-Americans and Latinos each comprise 13% of the total workforce and only 3% of the technical workforce. It is imperative to our economy and national health that we find multiple avenues to increase interest in STEM careers and transform these worrisome statics into number that better represent the population.  In order to promote STEM effectively to the females and underrepresented minorities, we must understand some of the reasons that keep them from pursuing the STEM field. From understanding the issues, the organization can become more effective in promoting STEM to girls and underrepresented minorities. 


Problem Review:

There is growing concern that the United States is not preparing a sufficient number of students, teachers, and professionals in the areas of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). The National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) results show improvement in U.S. students’ knowledge of knowledge of math and science; the large majority of students still fail to reach adequate levels of proficiency. When compared to other nations, the achievement of U.S. students appears inconsistent with the nation’s role as a world leader in scientific innovation. It has been said that many U.S. math and science teachers lack an undergraduate major or minor in those fields. There have been increases in some STEM fields (particularly biology and computer science). The United States currently ranks 20th among all nations in the proportion of 24-year-olds who earn degrees in natural science or engineering (NSF 2004). For more than three decades, many of America’s colleges and universities have been determined in efforts to create racially diverse campuses. With the nation’s changing demographics and continued need to remain globally competitive, it is clear that colleges and universities must increase the number of Hispanics and African Americans earning degrees in science, technology and engineering, and math (STEM) fields.


There have been this belief African-American and Hispanic students do not enter higher education interested in studying the STEM fields at the same rate as whites and Asian Americans. Another commonly held belief in society is that traditionally underrepresented minority students do not have the academic preparation necessary to move beyond the first-level STEM courses that are considered filters, moving inadequately prepared students out of the major. There has been data shown that African-American and Hispanic students entering four-year institutions major in the STEM fields at similar rates as white and Asian-American students, they initially persist, but then they struggle in their final years to complete a bachelor’s degree.


One of the main roles of U.S. higher education today is to educate and train the next generation of citizens who will help the nation maintain its competitiveness in an increasingly global marketplace (CEOSE 2004). There is increasing competition from across the globe countries with emerging economic power such as China and India. The two countries produce more people trained in the STEM fields. In the United States, the challenge of developing scientifically skilled workforce is complicated by the increasing diversity of the nation (CEOSE 2004). The nation has made tremendous strides in its efforts to increase minority access to STEM programs. Yet, Jason Coleman, Seun Philips, and George Wilson, who are the African American men who started the nonprofit organization Project SYNCERE (Supporting Youth's Needs with Core Engineering Research Experiments), saw a lack of diversity within their fields. They were not satisfied with what they saw and knew that it was important to start spreading awareness of STEM programming to youth in under-served communities now. Project SYNCERE’s mission is to increase the number of minority, female, and under-served students who pursue a career in the field of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).


Others issues that may prevent females and underrepresented minorities from pursuing the STEM fields could very well be the advertisements in technology magazines and television shows which tends to portray men in more technical roles than women. Early on children are exposed to televisions shows such as “Dexter’s Laboratory” and “Jimmy Neutron” both introduces STEM to girls as if males are intellectually superior. This is well demonstrated in the show “Dexter’s Laboratory” where Dexter is often interrupted by his not so bright sister in the laboratory. Women in the show are usually lab assistants or people who are learning from or looking up to the main character. Many female and other underrepresented groups feel that STEM courses are only interesting to boys , don’t align with their interests, are not relevant to their lives and therefore, they see no need to take them. Statistics have shown that only 20% of all parents will encourage their children to consider an engineering career (Harris Interactive, 2008). Another major problem within the community is that fact that the public is unaware of the future demand for STEM related careers. If a child grows up with a family member who is in a STEM field, they may have a good idea what is involved in STEM careers. For the most part, large segment of society does not have those roles models and will need further guidance. This is why there is a need for Project SYNCERE to spread awareness to the community females and underrepresented groups by engaging them in STEM programming.


Review of interventions:

In order to assist females and underrepresented minorities be positioned for bright futures in STEM fields there are a several effective strategies that can be utilized. Some of the programs available to undergraduates are the Meyerhooff Scholars Program; the Mathematics Workshop Program (MWP); the Leadership Alliance Program (LA); National Institutes of Health (NIH) Minority Research and Training and the Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation (LSAMP).  These programs have been proven to be successful in graduating females and underrepresented minorities within the field of STEM. The participants have gone on to continue and excel in their STEM careers.


The Meyerhooff Scholars Program is one of the undergraduate programs with the goal of producing African-American students to continue their education beyond undergraduate and obtain doctorate degrees in STEM discipline and join a college or university faculty for mentoring.  The program is now open to all students. This is one of the few intervention programs that is research-based. The program uses intense peer study groups and focuses on the needs of the whole student.  Meyerhooff Scholars program has reported that their students achieved higher grade point averages, graduated in STEM majors at higher rates, and gained acceptance to graduate schools at higher rates than multiple current and historical samples. The Meyerhooff Scholars program administrators believe that their extraordinary commitment of leadership, faculty, and staff to minority students’ academic achievement encourages them to constantly seek ways to enhance their students’ academic performance. 


The Mathematics Workshop Program (MWP) at the University of California-Berkeley is completely different from standard mathematics program in that the participants of MWP are organized into small groups (five to seven students) working to together for two hours twice a week, on worksheets containing usually difficult problems. The students in the program are monitored and assisted by a graduate student. The participants are encouraged to discuss the problem and instruct each other as to how solutions are derived. The peer exchange allows students not only to solve problems but also to help understand the ideas on which the problem were derived. This allows for academically oriented peer groups that were empowering. This resulted in promoting high levels of academic performance among African-American mathematics students. Other institutions such as Berkeley have been able to replicate this model. A model that can be equally replicated at high schools within the Project SYNCERE communities.


The leadership Alliance (LA) is a consortium of 32 of the leading U.S. research and teaching college and universities. The consortium includes institutions categorized as Ivy League, Research I, and minority-serving institutions—historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), Hispanic-serving institutions (HSIs), and tribal colleges. The Alliance main goal is to provide students with opportunities which would otherwise be unavailable to them to conduct research. Through this alliance, student gain intensive research experience and then give formal professional presentations at national symposium. The leadership Alliance is well positioned to serve as a clearing house for programs concerned with broadening the participation of underrepresented minorities in STEM fields.  Through the Alliance, there is ample opportunity for minorities to seek opportunity to gain research experience and make connections at partnering school in order to continue research in STEM long-term.


The Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation (LSAMP) vision is to increase the quality and quantity of minority students who successfully complete undergraduate degrees in STEMs fields and pursue graduate studies in those fields. In order for this vision to become a reality, LSAMP takes a multidisciplinary approach to student’s development and retention by creating partnerships among colleges, universities, national research laboratories, business and industry, and other federal agencies (Clewell et al. 2006). It through these partnerships LSAMP creates and sustains supportive environments that include adequate provision of financial and social support. The program has been excelling in increasing minorities participation within the field of STEM. Student participations in LSAM pursued post-bachelor’s coursework, enrolled in graduate programs, and completed advanced degrees at greater rates than national comparison groups of underrepresented minorities, and white and Asian students (Clewell at al. 2006).


In sum, the programs have an intensive approach to creating a multilayered web of support. Throughout programs one can identify a commonality of elements and factors that are effective in increasing the participation of underrepresented minorities in STEM fields.  It is clear the factors are to enhance substantive knowledge and technical skills, facilitating the creation of networks, and to providing bridge experiences to facilitate transition from one education milestone to another.



It has been understood that a student’s attitudes about careers in STEM are often formed before the high school years so it is important to focus on elementary and middle school students, which is the role that organization is aiming to do within the community by serving those populations early on. There is a need to promote and provide hand-on activities, introduce role models or mentors that resemble the students, provide activities that involve teamwork and collaboration, and communicate that girls make great scientists, technologist, mathematicians, and engineers. It’s those sorts of actions that will have a major impact on the lives of the students later on in during the undergraduate years when they’re considering going the STEM route.


The low number of females and underrepresented minorities in the STEM fields has become a national concern. It is only when we begin to work as a team and communicate a consistent message, will the results change (U.S. Department of Education  2007). The Educate to Innovate Campaign launched by President Obama in 2009 has three goals: Increase STEM literacy, Move American students from the middle of the pack to the top, and expand STEM education and career opportunities for underrepresented groups, including women and girls. The goals align well with Project SYNCERE missions, if we could start in communities around us, we are all moving together as nation.  When females and underrepresented student graduate from High School and are interested in pursuing the STEM fields, there are many successful programs available to support them. These programs are explained in more detail under the review of intervention sections. The undergraduate programs that have been extremely successful in excel the participation of minorities in the STEM field are Meyerhooff Scholars Program; the Mathematics Workshop Program (MWP); the Leadership Alliance Program (LA) and the Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation (LSAMP).


Project SYNCERE can definitely incorporate the models used by the programs and replicate them at elementary and high schools levels. In elementary and secondary levels, mathematical and science training has been shown to influence the academic preparation of students as well as their interests in high school mathematics and science coursework and in pursuing a STEM career. There is evidence that the number of mathematics, science, and English courses taken by high school students serves as a major predictor of choosing a STEM college major (Astin & Astin, 1992; Simpson, 2001). This fact, while positive for non-minority students, creates a barrier for many minority students due to a lack of resources needed to foster their learning in science and mathematics. The quality of the academic preparation many students in under-served communities receive is negatively impacted by disparities in teacher quality, school funding, and monies spent on instructional resources. Students in the Kenwood and neighboring community where Project SYNCERE is located, are likely being taught science by teachers who did not major in that field or by inexperienced teachers. Overall, the current system used for funding school districts is not equal across districts and students in under-served communities are less likely to have access to challenging, high-quality math instructions, further discouraging an interested in mathematics or science. 


Implementing programs models from MWP where students can come together in small groups and work on challenging projects and have mentors or instructors available to assist throughout, this can truly have an impact long-term. Project SYNCERE can even use the same models used in the undergraduate programs and bring them to the schools as an added curriculum taught by the organization staff if the school could not afford to provide the funding for the course. This could be something that can be proposed to the Chicago Public School board in order to run a plight program and see how these models will be effective in reaching those minority populations and the schools that are not receiving the proper funding to education the young men and women about the basic science and math. One theme from all the models was the fact there was also someone there the participants of each program can go to for assistance. Project SYNCERE needs to provide mentors for each student, someone who they can trust, listen to, and gain from. Project SYNCERE has had a tremendous impact in the lives of many students within the North Kenwood community and nationwide. Making the necessary changes within the elementary schools and implementing some of the models used for at the undergraduates in the elementary and high school levels can effectively improve participation of underrepresented racial/ethnic minorities in Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines.





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DRAFT: This module has unpublished changes.