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These are the faces of the next generation of diverse STEM professionals. Photo: Harrison Brink/AL DÍA News.
These are the faces of the next generation of diverse STEM professionals. Photo: Harrison Brink/AL DÍA News.

Inspiring the Next Generation in STEM

Various individuals and organizations are making a concerted effort to bring more diversity to the very critical fields.

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There are many industries that have a glaring underrepresentation of Black, Hispanic and other diverse individuals among its workforce.

Science, Mathematics, Engineering, Mathematics (STEM) are among those industries.

A 2021 Pew Research Center study noted that Black and Latinx workers represent 9% and 8% of the STEM workforce, despite making up 12% and 18% of the U.S. adult workforce, respectively.

The Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE), the largest Hispanic STEM association in the nation, has worked for nearly 50 years advocating for more Hispanic representation in STEM, and particularly, in engineering.

The Philadelphia chapter noted the glaring nature of the 10% gap between the STEM fields and the overall workforce for Hispanics. 

“STEM jobs are growing faster than other industries and by 2060, 1 in 4 people living in the U.S. will be Hispanic or of Hispanic heritage. So, with their notable growth, Hispanics are primed to help meet the demand for the growing STEM workforce,” they told AL DÍA. 

However, other qualities, such as intelligence, resourcefulness and creativity are all valuable to bring to the STEM fields. 

It’s this organization's vision to live in a world where Hispanics are highly valued and influential as the leading innovators, scientists, mathematicians and engineers. 

Comcast shares the sentiment toward underrepresented communities.

“We are committed to investing in programs and partnerships that advance education, training, and career development opportunities for people of color and women in the technology sector,” Loren Hudson, senior vice president and chief diversity officer at Comcast Cable, told AL DÍA. “We believe diversity of backgrounds, perspectives, and experiences can help us reimagine our business to educate, entertain, and empower now and in the future.”

An Eye Toward More Representation

With the U.S. population simply growing more and more diverse, the workforce should start to reflect that diversity.

There are various other organizations across the region, and nationwide, that are working diligently to increase the level of diversity among individuals entering into careers within the STEM fields. 

One such organization is GSK, the biopharma company that unites science, technology and talent to produce innovative vaccines and specialty medicines to prevent and treat disease. 

In 2020, the organization began a new 10-year commitment in partnership with the Philadelphia Education Fund to help Black, Latinx and female students overcome obstacles to their pursuit of careers in the STEM fields through the creation of the Philadelphia STEM Equity.

To this organization, the importance of diversity is clear.

“We believe that diversity and inclusion promote strength and resilience — not only for GSK as a business but also for the communities where we live and work,” said Kimberly Palladino, Collective Backbone Director at GSK told AL DÍA.

“We need diversity across our science and technology industries in Philadelphia to continue to drive innovation forward and solve today’s challenges,” she added. 

Beyond the racial component of the lack of diversity, there is also the gender component. 

It can be agreed that the lack of women within the STEM fields is a result of the lack of opportunities afforded to young girls, perpetuating stereotypes that manifest at an early age and often follows them as they start their careers.

“We use an engaging, intensive and multi-year approach for our work in STEM to keep girls from falling back on the persistent stereotypes that seek to dissuade them, especially girls of color, from pursuing exciting and lucrative STEM careers,” said Girls Inc., staff.

The organization recently launched Project Accelerate, a new initiative that supports the entry of young women into positions of leadership by driving cultural change towards equity in the workplace, and by ensuring young women’s educational attainment and skill development to facilitate compelling career trajectories. 

Coded by Kids also aims to bring awareness to STEM opportunities — particularly in the tech field — at a younger age.

“We are building the next generation of underrepresented tech leaders and startup founders,” said Coded by Kids Development Manager Melanie Bermudez. 

Through its teachings, Coded by Kids provides students with fundamental skills tech in tech.

“Technology relates to so much in the world now and even if these young people do not aspire to be technologists, it will allow them to participate in this new tech and innovation economy,” added Bermudez. “We want students to understand that the opportunity for advancement and earning in tech is boundless and they can use their skills and creativity to build whatever they can dream of.” 

Inspiring the Next Generation

The work can be amplified only by living proof — the young generation of students who are being actively influenced by various STEM professionals and organizations.

AL DÍA had the opportunity to speak to three incoming high school sophomores who have taken an interest in the STEM fields.

For MiaLynn Patrick and Ashley Rodriguez Peralta, their interest started when their physics teacher introduced them to an engineering program at Esperanza College. 

“She told us to go because she really wanted us to have that experience,” said MiaLynn. “We both went and now we're really into it.”

Ashley is highly interested in how life heavily revolves around physics. 

Both are well aware of the underrepresentation of girls and people of color in these fields, and believe diversity in STEM is very important.

“When people think of engineers and people in STEM, people always think of white men,” said MiaLynn. “And during our time in school, we were really pushed to kind of change the ratio.”

She noted that the program at Esperanza featured a lot of women, notably Hispanic women, who shared some of the same struggles and experiences as an underrepresented group in the field. 

To both, more diversity will lead to more inspiration to the younger generation to follow a path into the STEM careers.

“I feel like diversity is vital for the future,” MiaLynn said. “We definitely want engineers, and we definitely do need a lot more people in STEM, and I feel like people shouldn’t just limit that as a man’s job.”

Ashley added, “We really need people from different backgrounds to talk to these future generations to see they should not be afraid to do whatever they want.”

She noted that the underrepresentation comes from a place of privilege, something she feels she has as someone who attends a Catholic school with teachers who instill confidence in her. 

Fion Mack, another high school student who shared some of her thoughts, compared diversity in STEM to diversity on television. 

“You will look up to those people because that’s like a model you can look up to. That’s like seeing you doing that certain job,” she said.

“And I feel like misogyny and stereotypical views also play a role on how there’s like a lot of white, straight men in the STEM field and other minorities like Native Americans, African Americans, and Hispanics don’t have the same privilege as them,” Fion added. 

As the three high schoolers look ahead to the future, each of them have ambitious and lofty goals for themselves.

In the short-term, Ashley and MiaLynn both have plans to join the robotics club during the next school year. 

MiaLynn has many interests, and plans to pursue various paths, before ultimately deciding where she will settle.

“I really want to take psychology, but I also want to do something in law and criminal justice… and I’m really into STEM,” she said.

This coming school year, she plans to enroll in a number of math and science courses, and continue sharpening her skills.

Ashley has dreams of attending an Ivy League school in New York, with many ambitious goals herself.

“I want to study mechanical engineering, I want to study business, I want to study computer science… because I’m really open and I really like to do many things in my life,” she said.  

In preparation for college, Ashley already has her classes selected for her junior and senior years and has her sights set on the next chapter of her journey. 

As the child of immigrants, Fion hopes to take advantage of the opportunities she has that her parents weren’t afforded.

“Since they had to overcome all these obstacles just to find a job that would support the family, I feel like it really plays a big role in pushing us,” said Fion. 

In her case, she is keeping all her options open, including enrolling in a community college prior to transferring to a university. 

Long-term, each student has their individual plans to continue their education beyond high school, with goals of happiness, stability and impact.

A First-Time Event

The 2022 AL DÍA Leaders in STEM event is the inaugural STEM-based event AL DÍA has ever hosted.

The goal is to both recognize the work, while also motivating and encouraging the next generation of diverse individuals to chart their own personal paths forward within STEM. 

The importance of shining a light on this topic cannot be overstated, both from an organizational standpoint and from the individual one. 

An organization like PECO — a supporting sponsor for the event — has taken this kind of initiative very seriously.

“We are proud of our long-standing commitment to the advancement of individuals with diverse backgrounds, experiences, and ideas as we know it is one of the most crucial investments we can make to strengthen our workforce, economy, and society,” said Mayra Bergman, vice president communications at PECO. 

It’s the company’s belief that emphasizing diversity, equity and inclusion leads to positive results for the company and its employees. 

The upcoming event is especially sure to have a positive impact on the students who will be in attendance. 

“Events like this give people our age access to different ideas of what they can do,” said MiaLynn.

“And I think seeing people their age, race and ethnicity is really important because you get to see someone that’s similar to you explore the field or experience those things,” added Fion. 

The inaugural AL DÍA Leaders in STEM event takes place, Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2022 at the Pyramid Club. 

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