STEM Careers: Give Tech a Try
In a tough economy in which many recent college graduates are having a hard time finding employment, data shows a decline in black student interest in pursuing degrees in various STEM career fields (Science, Technology, Engineering, & Math). The lack of interest seems odd if you consider the following: many businesses are heavily dependent on technology, the US Department of Labor predicted that computer science hiring would increase by 24 % by 2018. And, STEM career fields can also be lucrative with starting salaries for mechanical, civil and electrical engineers at over $80,000.
But, the reality is that many black students aren’t considering these careers. Since the graduating class of 2000, African American interest in STEM majors/careers has dropped by nearly 30% (STEM Connector/Cisco), and blacks are receiving the lowest percentage of STEM bachelor’s degrees of all racial groups (National Center for Education Statistics). It’s believed many black students don’t consider STEM careers due to reasons including thinking STEM fields are too hard, negative stereotypes, discouragement, and a lack of current role models for young Black students.
However, I’d like to introduce black STEM professionals who are great role models and who discuss why more black students should consider obtaining college degrees in STEM. They are Shareef Jackson, science blogger & science social media activist, Stephani Page, Ph.D. candidate in Biochemistry & Biophysics at UNC, Chapel Hill; and Caleph Wilson, Ph.D. a biomedical researcher at Univ. of Pennsylvania.
Why should college students begin thinking more seriously about considering careers in STEM?
Stephani: I’ve seen a lot of Black students, myself included, talk themselves out of certain career paths. Whether there is a lack of confidence, a fear of the unknown, lack of awareness, or discouraging voices – it can be difficult to see yourself traverse the paths to a STEM career. I want to see young Black minds knowing that they truly are capable of thriving in these STEM spaces.
How did you get introduced to a career path in STEM?
Shareef: My parents always fed my love for technology by enrolling me in science programs and letting me play video games. It wasn’t until college that I realized that those passions could be translated directly into a high paying career learning all the theory and math problems [from] high school could be applied to real world problems.
Stephani:I was a great high school student and I loved Chemistry. Through the encouragement of my mother and my HS chemistry teacher, I decided to study Chemical Engineering at NC A&T
How did you overcome challenges with majoring in STEM?
Stephani: Being in engineering was tough and I didn’t have as much free times as friends in other majors, so I started working in study groups with my STEM classmates, who became my support system.
Caleph: Balancing classes, working in a lab, and applying and interviewing for graduate schools required sticking to a schedule.
Shareef: In my sophomore year I failed many classes, but improved my efforts in my last two years, reinforcing the fact I can do anything!
What do you love about your work/career?
Shareef: the work is different every day…fulfilling work life makes it easier to enjoy my personal life.
Stephani: I love talking about science and it’s relevance to our daily lives…my thought process as a scientist positions me to be a problem solver in other industries.
Caleph: Learning, thinking and doing has always been three of my favorite things and being a researcher allows me to do it every day. Getting paid to do what I love is mind blowing! I have gained a very diverse group of friends. My STEM career has provided access to a wide range of activities and friendships outside of the lab.
How should students prep for entering a career in STEM?
All three of our role models mentioned the importance of reaching out to interact with STEM professionals directly. They recommend joining mentoring programs through colleges, sororities/fraternities, & professional organizations. They also suggest that social media is a great w2ay to access STEM professionals directly. You can follow all our role models on Twitter, Caleph Wilson:
@heydrwilson, Stephani Page: @thepurplepage, & Shareef Jackson @shareefjackson