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Bill Aims to Boost Participation in STEM

The House Science, Space and Technology Committee is looking to invest in STEM education starting in high school and continuing into workforce development.

Lawmakers in the House are taking an interest in increasing the educational opportunities for students in the STEM field. On May 9, the House Science, Space and Technology Committee held a hearing on the STEM Opportunities Act, a bipartisan bill introduced by committee chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas) and ranking member Frank Lucas (R-Okla.)

The legislation would require more comprehensive demographic data collection on the recipients of federal research awards and STEM faculty at U.S. universities, as well as the development of consistent federal policies on federal research opportunities. The bill also mandates that the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy develop guidance for universities and federal laboratories to aid them in identifying any cultural and institutional barriers in the recruitment and retention of minority, rural and underrepresented students.

"Our economic competitiveness is threatened as competitors like China invest heavily in science and make advances in critical technologies like quantum computing and artificial intelligence," Johnson said. "To solve these problems, we need a cadre of trained scientists and engineers pushing the boundaries of what we know and what we can achieve."

Much of the hearing focused on how to increase the number of women and minorities entering STEM fields. "While women make up half of the U.S. workforce, they comprise less than 30 percent of the STEM workforce," said Lucas. "Similarly, underrepresented racial and ethnic groups make up only 11 percent of the STEM workforce."

Lorelle Espinosa, vice president for research at the American Council on Education, explained how minority serving institutions need more support when it comes to teaching STEM. "MSIs enroll nearly 30 percent of all undergraduates including a sizable portion of the nation's STEM students yet they are vastly under-resourced and in need of critical STEM infrastructure," she noted.

Espinosa is the co-chair of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine Committee on MSIs, which published a report in December 2018 outlining strategies to support the long-term success of MSI students in STEM fields. In her testimony, Espinosa encouraged the committee to consider addressing broad set of institutions through legislation instead of just the top research universities. She also recommended creating mutually beneficial relationships between research universities and community colleges.

When it comes to providing opportunities for students, Ohio State University is helping to train the next generation through its Young Scholars Program. The initiative is focused on providing students at Ohio's "most vulnerable urban schools" with ongoing academic support during their high school years, and offers "strong financial aid packages" at Ohio State for students who meet certain academic standards throughout high school and college, according to written testimony from James Moore, vice provost for diversity and inclusion at Ohio State.

The university also started a student bridge program in physics that has been expanded to other STEM fields at Ohio State, and has boosted the number of unrepresented students in the institution's STEM graduate programs. "We all share a responsibility to broaden STEM participation to maintain our global edge and to continue to provide hope to communities where economic opportunity is limited," said Moore.

About the Author

Sara Friedman is a reporter/producer for Campus Technology, THE Journal and STEAM Universe covering education policy and a wide range of other public-sector IT topics.

Friedman is a graduate of Ithaca College, where she studied journalism, politics and international communications.

Friedman can be contacted at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @SaraEFriedman.

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