FATE is changing the fate of underrepresented minorities by connecting the best STEM ideas to schools and students. And their ideas work. One of FATE’s students, Zora Ball, is the youngest computer programmer in the country.
At the First Anniversary FATE Bootstrap Expo, Philadelphia Deputy Mayor & Managing Director Richard Negrin gave keynote remarks.
Negrin said technology is key:
I love technology. I love innovation. But it’s not technology for technology’s sake. It’s empowering. It changes lives.
Negrin noted that 54 percent of Philly households do not have broadband Internet access at home. They live in “digital deserts” disconnected from the innovation economy and trapped in poverty:
Technology can break the cycle of poverty. Technology can empower all our children. It catapults their learning and thinking. That’s how we get out of this crisis in the education system.
Negrin observed that it is important to connect the dots on how STEM matters in students’ day-to-day lives. But we can’t show them what’s possible because no one knows what the future holds. Instead, we must show students the way, teach them the skills, and free their minds.
There is a STEM crisis in the United States. STEM stands for science, technology, engineering, and math. The U.S. ranks 25th in math and 17th in science among the 65 countries participating in PISA, the Program for International Student Assessment.
The STEM crisis is exacerbated by the shifting demographics. Whites make up 73 percent of the STEM workforce. Blacks and Latinos, who represent 28 percent of the U.S. population, make up only seven percent of STEM workers.
Over the holidays, I watched a documentary about American aviation. During World War II, there was a shortage of white male workers. Black workers were excluded from all but menial jobs. So the government, with the help of advertising agencies, gave factory jobs a makeover. And then the light bulb went off: The iconic Rosie the Riveter was a STEM worker!
One of the most popular versions of “Rosie the Riveter” was recorded by the Four Vagabonds.
Popular culture was used to encourage women to pursue “man-size” jobs.
The propaganda campaign worked. White women poured into factories and produced munitions and war supplies. The wartime workforce demographics also opened up opportunities for black women.
Fast forward to today. The shifting demographics and minority underrepresentation in STEM fields threaten our global competitiveness and national security. To borrow a phrase from President Obama’s election night speech, “We have to fix that.” To do so, we should go back to the future and give STEM a makeover.
A report by the Bayer Corporation found that one of the leading causes of minority underrepresentation is the prevalence of stereotypes that say STEM isn’t for minorities. Singer-songwriter will.i.am is determined to fix that. He recently observed:
I am trying to encourage kids to do something that isn’t yet on their mind because it is not in popular culture. Popular culture tells you “music, music, sports, sports.” It neglects the importance of a STEM education.
An innovator, will.i.am is rebranding STEM and making space history. For the first time, a recorded song was transmitted to Earth from another planet. His song, “Reach for the Stars,” was beamed down from the Mars Curiosity rover to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. How cool is that?
Hip hop icon GZA of the Wu-Tang Clan has teamed up with Columbia Teachers College professor Christopher Emdin and the website Rap Genius to use hip hop to teach science. They have created a contest, Science Genius BATTLES (Bringing Attention to Transforming Teaching, Learning and Engagement in Science), that requires students to write science-based raps.
At the launch of the pilot project, GZA said:
I am here not as a teacher, nor expert, nor genius. But I’m here as a science enthusiast who wants to inspire New York City public high school students to get excited about biology, chemistry and physics.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know the current approaches to STEM education are not working. According to the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress, only four percent of African American 12th graders were proficient in science. By contrast, 27 percent of white seniors and 36 percent of Asian American seniors performed at or above the proficient level.
GZA and will.i.am are bringing attention to the crisis and connecting STEM to students’ interests. At the same time, they are giving STEM a much-needed makeover.
I would like to wish you a happy and healthy new year.
I plan a fresh start in 2013 with Philly Phresh Start, a project to promote science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) among African American youth. I will apply the lessons learned from my year as a civic innovator to connect STEM to students’ day-to-day realities and interests.
The project will use pop-up hackerspaces, interactive video and social media to empower young people to imagine a better future.
I had a visceral reaction to this headline, “Education is the next startup Gold Rush, Silicon Valley will be at its heart”:
Already the epicenter of tech innovation and venture capital investment, San Francisco is poised to become heart of a new industry that will be powered by the Internet. And unlike me-too food apps and daily deals websites, education is more than a hot fad. American taxpayers invested more than $536 billion on K-12 education between 2005 and 2006, according to the U.S. Department of Education, with an additional $373 billion in taxes going to fund higher education nationwide. The educational pie is enormous, and anyone who can get his or her hands on even a small slice can expect to reap huge returns.
As an advocate for diversity, the report that venture capitalists hope to “reap huge returns” with taxpayer funds – our money – was a call to action. Indeed, without vigilance there is little chance minority-led startups will share in the huge returns.
The Minority Media and Telecommunications Council’s newly released report, “Minorities and High Tech Employment,” found that in Silicon Valley, African Americans and Hispanics represent 1.5 percent and 4.7 percent respectively of the workforce.
The lack of diversity impacts minority-led startups’ access to capital. A study by CB Insights found that VCs invest in startups led by founders with high tech experience. So it comes as no surprise that black founders received one percent of VC funds.
Three of the top six Silicon Valley companies – Apple, Oracle and Google – refuse to file reports on the demographic makeup of their employees. They claim release of EEO data “would cause ‘commercial harm’ by potentially revealing the company’s business strategy to competitors.”
Hewlett-Packard, Intel and Cisco Systems filed their EEO-1 reports kicking and screaming.
All six companies are major players in the educational technology sector. At ISTE 2011, their business strategies were on display for all to see.
Tellingly, there was a notable lack of diversity among the exhibitors.
Now along come VC-backed education startups. Their “trade secret” business strategy has slipped out from under their iPad Smart Cover.
As ed tech companies feed at the public trough, they will learn there is no free lunch. Advocates and activists will leverage relationships with school superintendents, school boards, community leaders and other stakeholders to ensure compliance with EEO reporting requirements.
An investigation conducted by the San Jose Mercury News in 2010 revealed significant disparities in the employment of African Americans, Hispanics, and women in ten of the 15 largest firms located in Silicon Valley, the leading high tech region in the country. Similar data indicate that such disparities exist across the national high tech sector. Collecting and analyzing this type of data is essential to calibrating policies aimed at altering these trends, which, if left alone, could become intractable in a sector that thrives on secrecy, relative insularity, and non-transparent business practices. As such, the reluctance of some of the leading Silicon Valley technology companies to release data regarding the composition of their workforces only contributes to existing uncertainty regarding the true extent of minority underrepresentation in the high-tech sector.