Imaginative Programs + Caring Mentors = Sparking STEM Interest in Underserved Youth
By Edwin Link, Senior Director of Academic Success, Arts & Innovation at Boys & Girls Clubs of America
Ask a kindergarten class if they like science and all kids will raise their hands. Then, ask a sixth-grade class if they like science. The number of hands raised will decrease greatly—especially the girls’. Interestingly enough, ask the same sixth-grade class if they’d like to save the environment and the majority of girls will now raise their hands.
Why is the diminishing interest in science occurring in young women, yet the underlying interest in science-related activities remains? I hope that my incredibly curious 5-year-old daughter never loses interest in science as she gets older. Unfortunately, our society has perpetuated a culture in which minorities—particularly women—are underrepresented in STEM fields. How can we help reverse this trend and encourage the growth of a qualified, diverse workforce in STEM-related fields?
Societal Disconnect: STEM Job Growth and the Underprepared Workforce
Nearly all 30 of the fastest-growing occupations will require some STEM education, with projected growth of 1.2 million STEM-related jobs in the U.S. by 2018. However, when polled, only 14.5 percent of female students expressed an interest in STEM compared to 39.6 percent of male students. And since the graduating class of 2000, African-Americans interested in STEM majors/careers have dropped 30 percent. The stark reality is that Americans, particularly underrepresented minorities, will be largely unprepared to secure these positions, putting our nation at-risk of losing competitive ground in the global economy.
Out-of-School Programs Role in Igniting STEM Interest
As the new school year begins, more youth will have the opportunity to learn about STEM during after-school hours thanks to the partnership between Symantec and BGCA. Through generous grants from Symantec Foundation*, 10 Boys & Girls Clubs will each receive a $7,500 grant to enhance STEM-related programming—from robotics to game design—and increase the number of youth engaged in STEM within their communities.
Success Story: SySTEMic Learning at Boys & Girls Clubs of Venice
One grant recipient, Boys & Girls Clubs of Venice in California, will be able to increase and enhance their high-quality STEM programming to 500 Club members—ages 6 to 17. Some of the inventive programs at Boys & Girls Clubs of Venice include:
- Cyber Security – CyberPatriot, the premier national high school cyber defense competition, gives hands-on exposure to the foundations of cyber security.
- Robotics – Club members are introduced to engineering through a partnership with FIRST Robotics for the FIRST Lego League and FIRST Robotics Challenge.
- Underwater Robotics – Yes, underwater robotics! This pilot project uses underwater robots to teach STEM and prepare students for technical careers.
- NASA’s B.E.S.T. Program – In partnership with NASA and the Los Angeles Unified School Districts Beyond The Bell program, this unique program brings engineering principles to younger audiences.
- Audio Engineering – Club members learn various elements of audio engineering, such as music production and vocal recording.
Hope for the Future
Thanks to the support of partners like Symantec, Venice and other innovative Clubs are able to lessen the STEM learning divide to deserving, yet underserved youth. It
*A Corporate Advised Fund of Silicon Valley Community Foundation