STEM: Raising Awareness, Expanding Access

10/23/2013 03:39 pm ET | Updated Jan 23, 2014

Editor's Note: This post is part of a series produced by HuffPost's Girls In STEM Mentorship Program. Join the community as we discuss issues affecting women in science, technology, engineering and math.

The disciplines of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) have continued to dominate the national discussion regarding academic preparation, particularly for our undergraduate students. And nowhere is this more pronounced than in schools and programs focused on serving the underrepresented groups of women and minorities. As a federally-designated Hispanic Serving Institution with a 72% female student population, this discussion features prominently at Mercy College. No one would argue that STEM education is not a vital component of higher education and to our graduates' futures these days. I would be counted in that group as well. But I would argue that we need to take this discussion one step further. It's more than just access to this type of coursework and providing experiential learning opportunities; it's about raising awareness of STEM fields among underserved populations and in their communities.

Part of our responsibility in helping students succeed in and beyond college is providing the resources and skills to be critical thinkers and active citizens, and to encourage them to enter engaging fields of study where they will excel.

I was taken with Eileen Pollack's "Why Are There Still So Few Women in Science?" in The New York Times. The lack of encouragement for exceptionally talented women in science fields that Pollack reports is unfortunate and disappointing, though not surprising. The same can be said for Hispanic and African-American students. While many academic institutions have taken on the challenge to bring these populations to the table, success remains elusive. That's why partnerships with local public high schools and summer immersion camps focused on real-world STEM issues in underserved communities are so significant.

Grants from the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Education expand Mercy College's STEM education capacity and demonstrate the value of collaboration and how collaboration can be used to advance education. When offered as intensive mentoring and hands-on experiences, these programs can open doors to STEM early in a student's life -- before they even enter college -- heightening their interest.

Not only are STEM fields better served when these populations are at the table and part of the conversation; their communities are better served. It's been widely reported by the National Science Foundation, U.S. Department of Education and Bureau of Labor Statistics that students exposed to STEM disciplines are more likely to choose STEM careers, get higher paying jobs and in turn, have children who will attend and graduate from college in a STEM discipline. All of these elements continue the cycle of success. If we're imaginative about the way we teach these subjects -- put students into real life scenarios like Mercy College's disaster preparedness camp this past summer -- we have a real chance at seeing a cohort of professionals in these fields that is more well-rounded by race and gender. We will all benefit as a result.