As of 2021, careers in STEM continue to be white-dominated. White men alone comprise 49 percent of STEM professionals in the United States, while Black individuals, of all genders, make up only 9 percent of the workforce. This underrepresentation can be attributed to structural racism, stereotypes, and a lack of representation in the past, leading to a strong need for spaces that can help create a coalition of Black students interested in pursuing STEM. The creation of more programs like the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) and Biotechnology will lead to more Black representation in STEM.
Programs like NSBE provide a rich environment with many Black role models for students to look up to, giving them the self-confidence to pursue a career in STEM. “It’s sometimes hard to fit in … (Especially) when a lot of the others are friends or live in the same neighborhood and know each other,” said a Berkeley High School student who wanted to remain anonymous due to the personal nature of the topic.
A paper written by researcher Juan Del Toro of the University of Minnesota also found that if and when Black students do decide to pursue higher education in STEM fields, they may encounter several barriers along the way. For example, Black students may be stereotyped in class, both by their peers and teachers. In the case of biased teachers, they may be graded more severely or be subject to harsher disciplinary practices compared to their white peers. In the case of stereotyping by peers, Black students may be belittled and made to feel as though they do not belong.
Even in a relatively inclusive environment like BHS, the existence of these stereotypes can create a strong need for students to feel they have to prove themselves. “Since in a lot of my classes I am one of a few (Black students) I can sometimes feel a bit of extra pressure to do well in the class to prove to people that Black kids can excel in STEM,” said the anonymous student.
Programs such as NSBE at BHS were implemented with the intention to increase Black representation in STEM by providing safe spaces for both Black students and professionals to continue to develop their interests in STEM. These programs specifically highlight and train Black students interested in STEM. The addition of more programs like these would vastly aid the cause of increasing Black representation in STEM and help pave the way for the next generation of Black STEM professionals.
Existing STEM clubs and classes at BHS are indeed inclusive, however, the fact of the matter is that it can be daunting to be one of a few Black students in a room. As such, spaces catered to Black students can help create an environment where Black students are surrounded by like-minded peers with similar experiences. This can allow them to focus on academics without worrying about how others will perceive them.