Today’s Students are Tomorrow’s Scientists, Technicians and Managers

Theodia B. Gillespie
President and Chief Executive Officer of the Quad County Urban League

Twitter: @QCUL 

When I began my career in 1984 as the education director for the Aurora Area Urban League (now known as the Quad County Urban League), I was charged with launching Tomorrow's Scientists, Technicians and Managers (TSTM). The program, designed for minority youth, would expose them to science and technology and offer math and science tutoring support to prepare them for careers as scientists, engineers, mathematicians and business leaders.   

Our 20th century focus on what is now our 21st century concern put us ahead of our time. But present-day statistics paint a dismal picture.  A tech industry deficient in diversity hurts the earning potential of people of color and robs the sector of fresh voices and talent to drive innovation.

According to a report in Wired Magazine, employment in STEM jobs is growing faster than any other industry sector and is set to increase by 17% between now and 2024. Led by tech giants such as Facebook, Amazon, and Apple, companies will need to fill more than 650,000 new jobs by the end of 2018. Two-thirds of these new hires will be STEM talent. While employment in this field is concentrated among white and Asian men, we know the emerging workforce is far more diverse.

Middle and high school students of color are disproportionally excluded or dropped from STEM classes during formative moments of their academic trajectory. Opportunities to access and remain engaged in science and technology often come against barriers, such as fees, prerequisite knowledge, competitive application processes, a lack of interest in science, and poor literacy skills.  The TSTM program increases access to science and technology opportunities while addressing practices and social realities that exclude many of these students.

The Quad County Urban League's goal has been to create a framework that eliminates barriers by supporting students' full social and intellectual development and offering students who are struggling academically a path that leads to equitable participation in STEM.   We also provide them opportunities to see themselves as future STEM professionals by having them shadow men and women who are already successful in these careers. 

Although there is no one model of success to combat the dearth of diversity in STEM occupations, collaborative efforts—such as Intel's pledge of $4.5 million in grant support to HBCU students—have proven successful. There is much work to be done by advocacy organizations, businesses, and local governments to employ innovative diversity initiatives that work and will help ensure greater diversity and better outcomes in a field that is increasingly shaping our world.