The future of science education is a growing concern nationwide. Only 18 percent of American high school seniors perform at or above the proficient level in science, according to the most recent National Assessment of Educational Progress. Moreover, significant numbers of today’s women and underrepresented minority chemists and chemical engineers say they were discouraged from pursuing a STEM career (science, technology, engineering or mathematics) in high school, according to the Bayer Facts of Science Education XIV survey.
The Bayer survey respondents give grades K through 12 a D on average for the job they do to encourage minorities to study STEM subjects and a D-plus to high schools and for encouraging high school girls to enter STEM fields. Of course, much depends upon the individual schools and science teachers. As one Hispanic respondent, a female chemist, says, “The effectiveness of the schools really depends on the district. It depends on how much money the school has to pay teachers and provide handson experiences.”
U.S. colleges fare the worst in the Bayer survey, however. They are cited by 60 percent of these same chemists and chemical engineers as the leading place in the American education system where discouragement happened, and college professors are cited by 44 percent as the individuals most likely responsible for the discouragement. The Bayer survey polled 1,226 female, African-American, Hispanic and American Indian chemists and chemical engineers about their childhood, academic and workplace experiences that play a role in attracting and retaining women and underrepresented minorities in STEM fields.
“If we want to achieve true diversity in America’s STEM work force, we must first understand the root causes of underrepresentation and the ongoing challenges these groups face,” said Greg Babe, president and CEO, Bayer Corporation. “We want to knock down barriers. If we can do that, we’ll be able to develop the attitudes, behaviors, opportunities and resources that lead to success.”
One finding of the survey is that, for the respondents, interest in science began in early childhood, regardless of gender, race or ethnicity. Nearly 60 percent say they became interested in science by age 11. This parallels the findings of a 1998 Bayer Facts survey of American Ph.D. scientists, which included White men. In that survey, six in 10 also reported interest in science by age 11. So by the time these students reached middle school or high school, they were ripe for encouragement and eager to be guided in this career path. But the encouragement did not come, according to the survey respondents. They claim quite the opposite. Most said their enthusiasm was dampened in grade school and high school as well as college.
The survey reveals that more than three-quarters, a staggering 77 percent, said that significant numbers of women and underrepresented minorities are missing from the American STEM work force today because they are not identified, encouraged or nurtured to pursue STEM studies early on. Researchers point to three contributors to underrepresentation in STEM. Hispanics, in particular Latinas, are susceptible to all three: lack of quality science and math education programs in poorer school districts (75 percent), persistent stereotypes that say STEM isn’t for girls or minorities (66 percent), and financial issues related to the cost of education (53 percent).
As one Hispanic female chemist respondent said, “Many minorities don’t know how to get scholarships. I learned about them in my high school career center and through the American Chemical Society in college.” Another Latina chemist noted, “I knew that I needed to set my
goals high and achieve them. I made my own way. I sought scholarships and worked extra jobs to finance my education.”
Parents can play a role in nurturing their children’s expressed interests in a STEM career. Nine in 10 (93 percent) of the chemists and chemical engineers polled report that their parents encouraged them to do well in school overall. Another 57 percent say their parents both emphasized science as an important subject for them to be learning and encouraged them to learn about science on their own through books and other materials.
However, in a survey conducted by the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) and Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals Inc., among a sample of 500 science teachers and 506 parents, including 406 parents of school-aged children, teachers say they see parental involvement lacking in students developing an interest in science. Nearly all (94 percent) of science teachers surveyed wish their students’ parents had more opportunities to engage in science with their children. And more than half (53 percent) of parents of school-aged children admit that they could use more help to support their child’s interest in science.
While science teachers agree (98 percent) that parental involvement is important for children’s interest in science, the survey shows it to be among the subjects parents are least comfortable discussing with their children. Barely half (51 percent) of parents say they are “very familiar” with what their children are learning in science, and only 15 percent cite it as the subject they feel “most comfortable” discussing with them, compared to 33 percent for language arts and 28 percent for math. Approximately seven in 10 parents say they are “very familiar” with what their children are learning in language arts (71 percent) and math (69 percent).
“Science education has been identified as a national priority, but science teachers can’t do the job on their own. They need help and support from key stakeholders, especially parents,” said Francis Eberle, NSTA executive director.
“We know that family involvement is important, and parents need help getting involved with their kids in a subject they may not feel comfortable with themselves. We must continue to find ways to break down the walls of the classroom and encourage learning together among families.”
Parental involvement is not the whole picture, however. The Bayer survey suggests that parents are nowhere near as influential as educators in shaping their children’s career interests in STEM fields. Survey participants say science teachers play a larger role than parents in stimulating and sustaining interest in science. During the elementary school years, 70 percent of the respondents say teachers have the most influence. During high school, 88 percent say teachers do.
In addition, STEM industries are cited by respondents as not communicating the message to women and minorities that they are wanted or needed in these fields (51 percent). Cultural issues are also a factor. Twenty-four percent of Hispanic males and 23 percent of Hispanic females cited the fact that people in their families didn’t completely understand what scientists and engineers do.” As one Native American female chemical engineer put it, “Going into science was unheard of in my family. I had to believe in myself – that I was smart enough to succeed.”
Surviving the lackluster support in high school and college is no guarantee of a welcoming environment in the marketplace for new chemists and chemical engineers. Nearly two-thirds (62 percent) of those polled in the Bayer survey say that underrepresentation exists in the work force of their company, organization or institution. Leading workplace barriers for the female and minority chemists and chemical engineers include managerial bias (40 percent), company/organizational/institutional bias (38 percent), lack of professional development (36 percent), no/little access to networking opportunities (35 percent), and a lack of promotional/advancement opportunities (35 percent).
One Latina chemist sees improvement in the workplace but explains that there is still much to do. “We still have to overcome bias. We work hard to show knowledge and not be overlooked or be perceived as not worthy.
There is a different type of managerial speak. We have a Hispanic leadership team at my organization to help new hires.” Nearly three-quarters (70 percent) of the chemists/chemical engineers say it is harder for women to succeed in their field than it is for men, and more than twothirds (67 percent) think it is more difficult for minorities to succeed than it is for nonminorities. Across the board, respondents give their employers a C for having women and underrepresented minorities in senior positions to serve as role models and mentors for the younger employees.
“This and previous Bayer Facts surveys confirm something I’ve long known – that interest in science is genderless and colorless,” says Dr. Mae C. Jemison, astronaut, medical doctor, chemical engineer and Bayer’s longtime Making Science Make Sense spokesperson. “All children have an innate interest in science and the world around them. But for many children, that interest hits roadblocks along an academic system that is still not blind to gender or color.
“These roadblocks have nothing to do with intellect, innate ability or talent,” says Jemison. “On the contrary, they are the kinds of larger, external sociocultural and economic forces that students have no control over. As students, they cannot change the fact that they do not have access to quality science and math education in their schools. But adults can. And we must.”
CEOs vs. Scientists in Diversity Debate
Bayer Corporation’s Bayer Facts of Science Education XIV surveyed underrepresented minority chemists and chemical engineers for their views on the state of diversity in the STEM fields. In a previous Bayer Corporation survey, Fortune 1000 STEM CEOs were polled. How did their responses match up with those of the minority scientists polled? Here are some areas of agreement and disagreement:
Where they agree:
Benefits of a Diverse Work Force
Ninety percent of CEOs and 83 percent of chemists and chemical engineers say that a diverse work force that includes women, Blacks, Hispanics and Native Americans is an asset in the success of their company’s/organization’s/institution’s success.
Underrepresentation in Their Own Organizations
CEOs and scientists do not view their own company/organization/institution through rosecolored glasses. Seventy-five percent of CEOs and 62 percent of chemists and chemical engineers believe that their own workplace is underrepresented in terms of women and minorities.
Promoting Women and Minorities to Senior Positions
Not surprisingly, CEOs give themselves higher grades for recruiting and/or promoting women and underrepresented minorities to senior positions, to serve as mentors and role models for the next generation of chemists and chemical engineers. CEOs give themselves a B-minus in this regard while chemists and chemical engineers surveyed assign CEOs a grade of C.
Where they disagree:
Workplace Diversity Recruitment Programs
Many CEOs assert that they have specific programs in place that aggressively recruit women and underrepresented minority STEM professionals. They say that they are doing all they can to address the STEM professional shortage in the United States by recruiting all qualified candidates. Yet when chemists and chemical engineers were polled, 35 percent said their company/ organization/institution didn’t have such programs or they were not aware of their existence.
STEM Industry Outreach/Communication
Nearly 60 percent of the Fortune 1000 STEM CEOs say that they believe their companies effectively communicate to today’s high school and college students, including women and minorities, that there are significant career opportunities for them to explore in STEM fields. Not so fast, say chemists and chemical engineers. Indeed, these same scientists say that STEM industries’ failure to communicate that message is one of the “greatest barriers to pursuing STEM studies and careers.”
Diversity: Solution to U.S. STEM Manpower Shortages
A whopping 92 percent of all the CEOs polled believe that bringing more women and underrepresented minorities into STEM fields will solve U.S. manpower shortages in these fields. Only 57 percent of chemists and chemical engineers polled believe diversity is the magic bullet to end human resource shortages.