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Increasing and Improving STEM Education and Access to Technology

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For generations, black innovators have made great contributions to global advancement in the fields of science and technology. Through the development of numerous labor-saving devices and inventions, these innovators have spawned companies that have generated money and jobs and laid the foundation for technological progress and enhancements.

One such inventor, Granville Woods, born a free man in Columbus, Ohio in 1856, is credited with numerous patents, including a phone transmitter in 1884, which was part telephone and telegraph. This invention laid the groundwork for the present day wireless world. As we strive to add to Woods's legacy through further advancements in the digital age and mobile space, it is important that we remember the fundamental characteristics that defined his personality and in turn led to his success. While Woods surely had an innate curiosity and innovative spirit, it was his commitment to acquiring the skill-set needed to achieve which propelled him and ultimately enabled him to create the foundation for a digital revolution that has redefined the way people connect and communicate. Accordingly, as we delve deeper into 21st century mobility, it is critical that the next generation of potential innovators are equipped to expand on the current technologies in place.

According to U.S. Census Bureau projections, racial and ethnic minorities are expected to comprise more than half of the national population by 2050. This demographic shift means that minority students will make up an increasing percentage of students in the national education system and, ultimately, in the job market. However, the job market has evolved and what were once viewed as traditional "jobs" are being supplanted as technological advances have changed the nature of the roles available with a significant shift towards professions in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) related fields. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there will be approximately 2.1 million new jobs in STEM areas by 2020. While projections indicate that racial and ethnic minorities are a growing demographic and that STEM proficiency is essential for future employment viability, current statistics present an alarming reality defined by limited access to technology for minority and low-income students and, thus, similarly low achievement rates in these disciplines.

STEM disciplines have not only become essential core subjects but digital and mobile technology has become central to the learning process. While statistics reveal that access to and education in and around this technology greatly benefits students, recent studies reveal that there are striking differences in access to the latest digital technologies between lower and higher income students with teachers of the lowest income students facing the most challenges in bringing digital tools to their classrooms. This coupled with a continued failure to provide minority students in low-income areas with access to a greater variety of core classes in science and technology has added to the learning and achievement gap. While the access and education around these core disciplines is lacking, the long-term implications and potential for success are clear.

A study, which was conducted by researchers at the University of Southern California's Rossier School of Education, followed more than 1,000 Asian and Pacific Islander, Latino and Black students over a period of nine years in an effort to determine the profitability of STEM degrees and help bridge the gap of minorities in those fields. Among the students surveyed, the study revealed, those who majored in STEM subjects earned at least 25 percent more than their counterparts who majored in humanities or educational fields. In addition, those who pursued jobs related to their STEM majors earned at least 50 percent more than their humanities and education counterparts. This disparity will only continue to increase as the job market advances to include more STEM-related professions and critical change is not implemented to provide better education and greater access to these disciplines for minority students in low-income communities.

Access to technology is the great equalizer and STEM workers stand at the forefront of innovation in the U.S. economy. As technological changes reshape the world of work, these professionals will continue to be in demand. Accordingly, it is imperative that we not only mandate that low-income and minority communities receive the same access to technology in the classroom but we also implement targeted initiatives in these communities to ensure exposure to the core STEM disciplines which will produce the jobs of tomorrow.

While there is a tendency to discount the continuing role of Black inventors in science and technology in the digital age, we must ensure that they continue to remain prominent and visible. Granville Woods is a prime example of the importance of Black labor, ingenuity, creativity, innovation and invention. And we must demand that our students are provided with the necessary education and access in order to build upon the foundation established by Woods and take the digital revolution to the next level.