Kaylynn Cusic, 16, is a junior at Young Women's Leadership Charter School in Chicago and plans on studying biomedical engineering in college. She is interested in exploring the issue of low minority participation in STEM fields.
The technological advances our society offers aren't just falling from the sky. They are the result of innovators in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) fields. To advance STEM and our society, we need to begin raising and nurturing the next generation of diverse perspectives.
Yet, as a soon-to-be biomedical engineering major in college, I have found the demographics of STEM field employees are nearly all the same: male and Caucasian. I won't be all alone as an African-American woman engineer in a STEM field -- but I will be pretty close to it.
Math, science and technology weren't always my favorite subjects: It took me going to high school to realize my love for them. When I first started high school, I just knew engineering required great math and science skills, and my sister suggested I should become one.
When I decided I wanted to learn more about engineering, I applied for and was accepted into the IIT Boeing Scholars Academy, a STEM education program for Chicago-area juniors and seniors to understand what type of engineering I would like to pursue.
I was able to complete an STS (Serving Through STEM) project that allowed me to get a better understanding of what biomedical engineering is. I loved it. I can confidently say exploring STEM is one of the best decisions I have made in my life.
I began to research more about STEM fields only to find there are not a lot of people who look like me working in them. Minorities make up about only 20 percent of STEM fields. Only one in 10 minority women are scientists or engineers. These facts are definitely discouraging, but they give me more reason to pursue a STEM field and to encourage others.
As a resident of Chicago's South Side, I know a lot of students are not attracted to STEM fields. Some of them view the required intense critical thinking as intimidating and the problems being solved within STEM as insurmountable.
I've heard science and technology described as "too hard," "frustrating" or just simply "too much." I do not want my fellow classmates, who are mostly minorities, to view STEM as having too many barriers for success. I want them to see and use STEM as a vessel to make their contributions to our world.
I encourage parents to remind their children that STEM careers are an option and not to totally disregard them. I encourage educators to incorporate advanced math, science and technology into their lessons, letting their audiences know that math, science and technology is a part of their everyday life. I especially encourage minority students to have a desire to explore STEM, and to be a part of STEM education programs, so they can begin developing their interest in STEM fields.
STEM jobs are expected to make a giant increase over the next decade, and minorities can be workers in a field that is as lucrative as it is engaging. In addition, minority perspectives and contributions to STEM matter and can make a difference.