Leveraging Black History Month to Inspire Young Minorities to Pursue STEM Education

In June 2014, I had the privilege of giving the keynote speech at the Prince William Chamber of Commerce Government Industry Day. I spoke specifically on the topic “What Makes Innovation Leaders Difference: 7 Winning Strategies.” As I researched and prepared for the speech on innovation, I discovered a quote by President Obama which read, “The key to our success-as it has always been-will be to compete by developing new products, by generating new industries, by maintaining our role as the world’s engine of scientific discovery and technological innovation. It’s absolutely essential to our future.” However, in order for this level of innovation to continue, we – as a nation have to maximize every opportunity to educate, encourage, motivate, and mentor students in the STEM disciplines. Successful innovative leaders understand the importance of professional development. Encouraging students to expand their horizons through technology exploration is a path forward to innovation success. STEM advocacy and development is essential for continuous U.S. growth and sustainability.

Unfortunately, the decline in the technology workforce continues to increase due to a lack of trained personnel to fill the vacancies. According to the Department of Labor, STEM related jobs continue to grow disproportionally to the skilled workforce. Less than 20% of minority students enrolled in STEM disciplines. When it comes to minorities working in STEM, the percentage is even lower-around 5 percent. This unbalanced STEM gap impedes the United States’ ability to reclaim its position as the number one country in innovation. Diversity is essential in order to fill the technology and science jobs of the future. Through STEM related mentoring, workshops, seminars, competitions, work study, co-ops, partnerships, non-profits, colleges/universities, etc., we can ignite the exploratory imagination of minority students nationwide.

Black History Month cannot only be an opportunity to reflect on past successes, but can also be the catalyst for leveraging the importance of STEM in the minority population. We are descendants of a rich heritage. African Americans have contributed immensely to the U.S. innovative spirit. For example, where would we be without the refrigerator, stop light, blood bank, imaging x-ray spectrometer, clothes dryer, lawn mower, traffic signal, microphone, etc.? The list goes on and on. However, in order for this level of innovation to continue, I propose that we use every platform available to encourage our young men and women to maximize their learning potential. The message should be that there is nothing wrong with pursuing STEM related disciplines. Unfortunately, terminology such as geeks, nerds, book worms, etc., can sometimes dissuade young people from pursuing these studies. Because of this stereotyping characterization that occurs across the student population, it is essential that we continue to educate communities on the monetary possibilities associated with STEM. However, through positive mentoring, we can make this happen.

Finally, from an entrepreneurial perspective, I believe that education in the STEM disciplines will not only enable you to get a job, but will allow you to potentially create jobs for others in the future. During a recent radio interview, I summarized my discussion on this topic with this statement, “Pursuit of STEM related education can be the catalyst for bridging the economic gap and ensuring that America remains an innovative powerhouse.”

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