Why We Need More Latinos in STEM

After high school, I didn’t know what college major to pick so I started working on my Associates Degree without knowing to what end. I enrolled at the College of Southern Nevada and took general education classes that enriched me as a person yet failed to elicit a major. The following summer, an opportunity arose to attend a biomedical workshop – and it turned out to be one of the best experiences of my life. For the first time, I learned about the field and the facilities and services available here in Nevada.

It took three years after high school for me to realize I was passionate about the biomedical field. I learned about the workshop by accident, through another student, and applied for it only hours before the deadline. Yet while for me the event felt very unique and life changing, it is sadly a rare experience for most Latinos.

According to a report by the White House Department of Education, Latinos are less likely than other ethnicities to enroll in STEM fields because they are not as exposed to it at K-12 levels. The report states that even as the largest minority group in our schools, we are scoring below the national average in fields like math and science.

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The report highlights the dire need for more students to graduate in STEM fields, which are vital for the United States to compete in the global economy. This alone will increase the demand for these jobs 17% by the year 2020. If Latinos want to grow with the nation, we need to start exposing our youth to STEM fields at an early age and providing more opportunities at K-12 levels. We need to be more present in the fields that will allow us to thrive as a community and make greater contributions to our country.

As technological progress and demand grows at an exponentially rapid pace, STEM education is no longer a luxury we can afford to dismiss. As Latinos, we have already proven our work ethic and opportunism, but we are missing a common and decisive vision. Our leaders are in place and the systems are present, but awareness is lacking. There is no reason our high school graduates should miss these educational opportunities; they definitely shouldn’t lack access to these programs merely because of ignorance.

The Obama Administration has taken the initiative with the Five-Year Federal Strategic Plan, which targets Latinos and other low-income minorities to grow into the STEM fields. It has developed nationwide programs across that have already shown progress. Latino parents and students should engage in such programs and help develop a better future workforce.

As I advance towards my Bachelor of Science, I see fewer and fewer Latino faces in my classes. It makes me value the opportunity I found a few years ago that much more. I was fortunate to have stumbled upon this area of study – but there is no good reason that I should be an exception.