Diversity rates in STEM on the rise

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In recent years, the percentage of women and people of color (POC) majoring in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) at Boise State University has been steadily increasing.

Since 2014, the percentage of undergraduate women in STEM has risen by 6% and the percentage of undergraduate underrepresented minorities has risen by 4%, according to the Institute for STEM and Diversity Initiatives.

This growth is the result of several factors, including an array of opportunities for minority groups on campus.

“I think there’s just more options. There’s more clubs that are supporting minority groups, there’s more scholarships and resources available in general,” said senior mechanical engineering major Sam Schauer.

Schauer, who is the president of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE), spoke of her experience at Boise State as positive and welcoming. In order to provide the same experience for other women engineers, Schauer spends her time as president of SWE working to bring women together.

Schauer discussed the importance of empowering minorities, explaining how it will lead to new ideas and advancements in the STEM industry.

“If you put four people with the same background, the same experience, and they’re trying to come up with ideas, they’re all coming off the same points,” Schauer said. “But if you have different genders, different ethnicities, different experience levels, different interests, you’re getting ideas that lead to innovation.”

The Institute for STEM and Diversity Initiatives is a student resource dedicated to providing opportunities for students from underserved or underrepresented backgrounds. Since 2014, their goal has been to create an environment of equity and inclusivity.

“I think that people had been quiet for so long that people mistook this to mean that all was well, but it really just meant that people didn’t feel like they had a voice or the power to use that voice,” wrote executive director of the Institute for STEM and Diversity Initiatives Dr. Donna Llewellyn in an email. “I think that is starting slowly to change and now we need to wake up as a campus and really address some serious issues.” 

Llewellyn believes there have been vast amounts of support from the campus staff and faculty to work towards a future of inclusivity. The STEM community continues to take strides in the direction of equality.

Looking back on her own experiences as a woman in STEM, Llewellyn shed some light on the hardships that women and POC face every day in a predominantly white and male field. Across the board, women counted for just below 30% of those employed in scientific research and development fields in 2016. Women of color averaged just below 4% of these degree-holders. 

“I learned to grow a very thick skin at a very early stage in my education and career path,” Llewellyn wrote. “My fervent hope is that one day, women who walk the same path that I walked will not need to grow calluses just to survive.”

According to Llewellyn, minorities that want to create positive changes for future generations of students and professionals ignite the biggest changes in the STEM fields.

Chantal Mendiola Orizaba, a first-generation junior biology major, discussed the value of creating support within the community of minorities in STEM.

“Generations of POC who have come before me have succeeded in even harsher conditions and are now putting in the work to bring more POC into these fields,” Mendiola Orizaba said. “They understand the struggle of being the only person in the room, being first-generation, being working class, and much more because they lived it.”

Mendiola Orizaba explained that, while Boise State has made efforts to advertise their acceptance of diversity, the issue is much greater than the university has addressed.

“The university needs to make tangible actions with measurable results that will actually help working-class POC start and finish with a degree,” Mendiola Orizaba said. “Boise State, the city of Boise and the STEM industry have a long way to go on this path of diversification, but the benefits of shifting the voice and power to communities that have long been oppressed is clear.”

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