The Village

  • Be Not Discouraged in the Quest for STEM Education

    Apr 8, 2013. Written by Kai Dupe

    In a 2010 study by The Bayer Corporation, it was reported that many minorities as well as women have been discouraged from pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).  Further, this report identifies the American educational system as the culprit.

    The Bayer Facts of Science Education XIV survey polled 1,226 female African-American, Hispanic and American Indian chemists and chemical engineers about their childhood, academic and workplace experiences that play a role in attracting and retaining women and underrepresented minorities in STEM fields.

    According to the report, 40 percent of today’s women and other underrepresented minority chemists and chemical engineers in the United States were discouraged from pursuing a STEM career at some point during their academic careers.

    Those surveyed said that this happened mostly while in college and that the person most likely to discourage them was their instructor. I found this study very interesting because I too experienced this as an undergraduate student pursuing a degree in computer science.

    I was met with opposition from my advisor when I inquired about pursuing a double major in computer science and business. I needed his advice on adding the business major and to plan my route to register for the courses to reach my goal. I was already majoring in computer science and I wanted to add the business major which would result in my receiving degrees in both.

    He told me that he did not think I had what it took to complete a degree in computer science, let alone be successful at any attempt to double-major.  I remember thinking to myself “you are able to tell all of that about me from grades on a piece of paper but grades do not measure heart or attitude.” I also wondered why my advisor was not helping me with my goal. Instead he tried to persuade me to change my major to one less challenging and to forget about the idea of double majoring altogether.

    I politely explained to him that I appreciated his feedback but I would expect him to help me file the needed paperwork to be registered as a double major and if he could direct me to an appropriate advisor in the business major.

    I graduated in 1986 with a double major in computer science and business administration, despite this discouragement.  I have enjoyed a very successful career in computer science and business. I must admit that I was somewhat surprised to learn that this kind of thing is still happening.

    Was it personal for my advisor? Did he think he was doing a good thing by giving me this advice? I do not know what the answer is, but what I do know is that it was not helpful. Now that I am studying the shortage of African-American males in computing, it is interesting to discover the myriad of social practices that lead to this situation.  It is more about attitude than aptitude and attitudes can be damaged by such discouragement.

    How many young men and women have experienced this discouragement and decided to change majors because of it? Do not fall victim to this type of discouragement. Be strong and move forward toward your goals. If your advisor or instructor is discouraging you find a new one. Find one that is positive and encouraging and who will help you to reach your academic goals.