Why a Diverse STEM Workforce Starts in the Classroom

The STEM workforce is the compilation of careers that use science, technology, engineering, and mathematics skills. This workforce is key to our society’s continued success and progression – accounting for many of the efficiencies in daily life, technological advancements in medicine, and other key areas determining quality of life. One key factor in the continued success of the STEM workforce is diverse representation. Diversity in the STEM workforce ensures a wide range of innovative ideas based on each individual’s unique perspective and background. 

Ensuring the STEM workforce continues to have representation of all ethnicities and genders starts in the classroom. School administrators and educators have the opportunity to create an environment where all students can improve their STEM literacy and move toward becoming qualified members of the STEM workforce. In this article, you will learn about the importance of diversity in the STEM workforce and how it begins in the classroom.

Barriers to Diversity in STEM Education

There are a variety of factors that make it difficult to create an equitable, diverse learning environment. As educators, it is essential to know what these barriers are so we can better overcome them. Below is a list of common barriers to diversity in STEM education and education as a whole:

  • Stereotypes: Stereotypes play a large role in the classroom whether it is clear to educators and students or not. Educators can make a conscious effort to debunk stereotypes in the classroom and allow students to work without the confines of these predetermined ideas/images of who they are supposed to be. 
  • Lack of Access to Quality Education: Depending on the school, there may be different access to supplies and materials. This can lead to an inequitable education experience for some students, where they are not receiving the same education as other students at wealthier schools with more resources. 
  • Self-Perception: Self-perception can be either powerful or detrimental depending on how students view themselves. Educators and parents can help students create a positive self-image, which will give them the confidence they need to try new things and continue engaging in STEM lessons.

The Power of Inclusive Learning Environments

Creating an inclusive learning environment has a major impact on student learning and shapes the trajectory of their education and future careers. By creating a safe space for students to explore, ask questions, and take risks, educators can help students overcome their barriers and reach their potential. 

When educators successfully create an inclusive STEM classroom environment, they will notice their students are more engaged and they are improving their STEM literacy. They are also more likely to enjoy what they are learning, which leads to a passion for learning – continuing to engage in more complex lessons in the future.

Representation Matters: STEM Role Models in the Classroom

Giving students successful role models is a powerful way to motivate them and provide a real-world example of where hard work can get them. Especially in STEM, providing diverse role models of varying ethnicities and genders can give students someone to look up to who is similar to them and has found success in a STEM field. 

By connecting students with diverse STEM professionals, they can see success is possible and have someone to help them navigate the future. Having someone similar to you who can answer specific questions and alleviate potential fears can be the difference between a student choosing to continue their education in STEM.

Curriculum That Reflects Diversity

Students are very observant. They notice small things throughout the classroom, environment, reading material, curricula, and more. That is why educators and school administrators should always strive to have a curriculum that reflects diversity. 

A STEM curriculum that has students of color and all genders is more likely to resonate with a wide range of students. It is influential for students to see someone who looks like them in their curriculum and it is something that does not go unnoticed. This small effort at an inclusive and diverse curriculum sends the message to students that they belong in STEM learning and the STEM workforce.

Encouraging Participation from an Early Age

It is important to engage students in STEM learning at an early age. This early exposure gives students the confidence and familiarity they need to continue engaging in STEM learning as they progress through their education. Below are ways to get students engaged in STEM learning as early as kindergarten. 

  • Hands-On Lessons: Hands-on learning is the method of facilitating learning through real-world interactive learning experiences. This teaching method has been proven to increase student engagement and retention, especially at the primary level. 
  • Field Trips: Field trips are an engaging experience for students that helps bring STEM lessons to life. When field trips are paired with specific STEM learning outcomes, they can help students better understand what they are learning and how it connects to the world around them. 
  • After-School Programs/Clubs: Afterschool programs and clubs are a great way to get students excited about learning outside of the classroom. Students can explore their passion for STEM and go through lessons at their own pace, something not always possible in a traditional classroom setting.

Bridging the Gap: From Classroom to Career

Creating a diverse classroom environment where students feel comfortable and safe is the first step to creating a diverse STEM workforce. This environment empowers students to improve their STEM literacy and pursue future careers in STEM. Educators play a key role in a child’s education. With their support, students feel like they can accomplish anything and can reach their full potential.

A Call to Action for Educators and Policymakers

It is imperative educators, school administrators, and policymakers put an emphasis on the importance of creating diverse, inclusive classrooms. These student-focused classroom environments play a critical role in student achievement and development, especially in STEM subjects. 
If we want to continue to create a diverse STEM workforce, it starts in the classroom and with our educational leaders! To learn more about STEM learning and current trends, click here.

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