As we enter the Digital Age, the need to fill the millions of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) jobs will be vital. Although the Bureau of Labor Statistics has projected that this will be an important feat for the entire nation, the need for more racial diversity in the STEM fields is an even greater problem to solve for communities of color.
During the highly acclaimed Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s 2012 Legislative Conference, Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), a longtime proponent of STEM education and the ranking member of the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, chaired her four-hour long signature Science & Technology Brain Trust to encourage and increase minority youth awareness, interest, and participation in STEM-related education and careers.
“All during my career, the message has been ‘we need more women and minorities involved,’ and you know at some point in my life, that might have been to make it look diverse, but now it is essential because there is a growing population,” the Congresswoman said. “If we’re going to remain on the stage of the world, we got to produce the talent.”
At the event moderated by Harvard University graduate and renowned actress Tatyana Ali, the audience, filled with students from Washington, D.C.’s McFarland Middle School and Luke C. Moore Academy High School, among others, listened to three panels of STEM role models who shared their personal journeys, inspirations, initiatives, and passions for STEM.
Some of the panelists included WRC-TV Meteorologist and Atmospheric Scientist Veronica Johnson; NASA Astronaut Stephanie Wilson; educators Birdette Hughey and Joe Isaac; former Howard University Hospital Director of Literacy for Children and daughter of Dr. Charles Drew, Bebe Price; Shell Oil Company’s Workforce Development Initiative Lead Mike Alvarez; and Google’s Jordan Lloyd Bookey.
Most of the panelists pointed out that minority students are unaware of the careers in STEM and the courses they need to take, but lack role models in the field who look like them. Herman Hill, HCI IT Services executive vice president, also told students about the importance of pursuing careers in STEM.
“Today, technology is driving our economy, globally. Technology is driving our education, and you are a part of that. Not the future, but now. If you wait, I promise you, there will not be a future for you,” Hill said.
Barrington Irving, who holds the Guinness World Record title as the youngest person to ever to fly solo around the world and the first African American man to do so, told students that they “can be anything in STEM.”
“I was 23 years of age when I did it a few years ago,” he said. “I was simply a young person who had a dream, and I said not only did I want to become a pilot, I also wanted the opportunity to inspire other people as it relates to science, technology, engineering, and math.”
Irving, in partnership with NASA and National Geographic, will transform a commercial jet into a flying classroom. Then he will travel to all seven continents, over the course of the year, conduct experiments in more than 30 countries, and reach and interact virtually with more than one million third-grade to twelfth-grade students.
Science Media Producer Dr. Aziza Baccouche, who mentioned that she might be the first African American woman who is legally blind to obtain a Ph.D. in physics, also created an opportunity to educate and inspire students. She recently launched “Dr. Z,” a television pilot for a series that will profile an array of African American scientists.
While referencing some of the United States’ most successful technology companies, Microsoft Corporation Vice President of U.S. Government Affairs Frederick S. Humphries encouraged students to join the ranks and continue the trend of U.S. technological innovation leadership.
“As you look at the demographic trends, you are the future,” Humphries said. “This country is becoming more black and brown, and if we want to maintain that leadership … we are going to have to invest at home, and it ends with the kids in this room.”