A recent University of Massachusetts Amherst study found having academic contact with female professionals in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) can have positive influences on students—female students in particular. For girls and young women studying these subjects in school, being able to identify female role models helps them imagine themselves as STEM professionals. The role models enhance their perceptions of such careers and boost their confidence in studying such subjects.
Moreover, when it comes to attracting more minorities to study and pursue careers in STEM, the same formula works equally well. In fact, within the African-American community, there is strong interest in celebrating role models of achievement:African-American history programs at schools and churches, Most Influential African-Americans lists in national magazines, featured stories in the press of African-American Firsts. Everyone loves a Cinderella story. Who can resist celebrating the local kid who came up, so to speak?
In order to dispel the myth that Blacks, Latinos or Native Americans don’t do well in science and math, people need to see real people from their communities who have succeeded in science math. Parents and students want to know who, like them, has paved the way to success in science and engineering; and how did they do it. I meet ministers, grandmothers, teachers, social workers, and people from every walk of life who ask me to simply come and spend time with the young people in their lives and let them know about science. Communities want to interact with STEM professionals they can relate to.