When I think about what it took for me to be who I am today—a Haitian American woman working in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM industry)—I almost always get emotional! And let me tell you, it takes a lot of dedication, fortitude, tenacity, and self-confidence to continue on this journey as a black woman living in the 21st century.
I understand firsthand why STEM initiatives haven’t been successful in recruiting and retaining young adults; it goes beyond generating interest through exposure. The number one reason for low retention rates in the STEM fields is a lack of self-confidence in science and mathematics, the foundational core competency subjects of STEM. In my opinion, what we must work on is what I like to refer to as #STEMfidence.
When we add the emotional, economical and psychological effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the impacts it has had on our educational system, we adults need to be even more engaged in helping our students learn, retain and apply STEM topics. Being forced to learn online from home, many children have had to re-adjust to a totally new educational structure. According to a recent article in USA Today, “What happens at the beginning of a child's life is crucial to what comes after, research shows. Early emotional experiences become embedded in the architecture of children's brains, which is why the impact of COVID could have lifelong consequences.” Sadly, minority students are all too often more negatively impacted, which contributes to low retention and recruitment in the STEM fields.
I reference the quote from this article in my poetry video, Dreams (https://www.santiana.com/post/dream). When I think about all the atrocities I survived in my childhood, I cannot fathom having to live through them while also living through this global pandemic. Going to school was a welcome escape for me, a safe place, an option that has been taken away from so many children. It is so important to be engaged in the education and overall development of the young generation, even more so today, so that our children might dream a better tomorrow, even if that dream goes beyond STEM subjects.
Our future will depend on all children everywhere who are being negatively impacted during this pandemic era. Their emotional health as well as their educational success should be a priority. Students need guidance to help them understand science and mathematics so they can learn the STEM subjects and gain the confidence to know that they’ve got this! Building #STEMfidence is key to their success.
And listen up parents, family members and friends, we need to have a conversation about what the science and mathematics worlds mean to each of us, too. Do we have the proper foundation to tutor and help our children learn these essential subjects? If not, what is our plan to get them what they need to succeed in these subjects? How will we ensure our children have the right tools? We must address our own limitations rather than shying away from them. Let’s be honest about our STEM knowledge so that we can build a support system for our kids. We need to get in tune with and improve our own understandings of the technical subjects we didn’t “get” growing up. Once we’re able to have this conversation, we can get past the false beliefs, fears, and ideas that STEM fields are hard and “scary,” and instead pass on confidence and a positive message to the next generation.