Some tough reads about diversity in tech and accountability in education policy might make us worry about the health and well-being of the STEM learning enterprise. But green shoots of creativity and commitment are always asserting themselves, and the finish below has some real “STEAM-y” flare.
Testimonies from members of groups under-represented in engineering and technology can detail behaviors almost too benighted to believe. And yet these stories keep coming.
Did he really say …?
Makinde Adeagbo, a black software engineer, describes his race as generally a negligible dimension of his work in Silicon Valley. Except when it’s not. His encounter with a CEO during a job interview took a sudden, shocking turn into matters of race relations and terminological taboos (i.e., the “N” word) far afield from the technical content of the position he sought.
He writes, “I had never had that cutting word said to me. Should I stand up and leave, or treat this as a teaching moment?” His answer, and how the experience shaped his work life thereafter, illuminates challenges and complexities that no “tech bro’s” would ever face.
“Women and minorities just can’t do STEM”
This dismissive judgment drove Erika Hairston as a junior in high school to set her sights on a career in tech. Now an accomplished techie, Hairston mines her experiences to narrate “the power that Blackness and womanhood” can bring to software engineering and related computer fields.
Despite having “a mind that is constantly underestimated in this field,” Hairston continues in her quest “to use my skills and perspective to dismantle the industry’s structures of exclusion.” Good on her.
How to get to Computer Science for All
Some of the largest school districts in the country also happen to house some of the most creative, effective approaches to making computer science a meaningful element of K-12 teaching and learning. What they’re implementing might in fact help remedy the failures in diversity endemic in the field.
This flash oral history of women in tech delineates the many angles from which gender makes leadership in the field a challenging enterprise. As a collection of personal narratives, offered in snapshot form, it packs a punch.
The policy times are a-changing
For all its terrible publicity, No Child Left Behind did put forth strong accountability principles. Its successor, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), will challenge policymakers – at the state and federal level – to show that they have learned the available lessons. If not, ESSA could well become, as some Department of Education officials in our neighborhood worry, the “every-student-succeeds-who-would-have-succeeded-anyway” act.
One reason to wonder about legislators’ commitment to ESSA recently came across the wires with the early mark on Title IV funding in the congressional appropriations process. The home for “well rounded education” programs as well as a great deal of STEM funding, Title IV was authorized at $1.65 billion. Actual dollars currently amount to $300 million. Not good.
Diversity of perspectives in engineering and technology is, to be sure, important as an issue of social equity. It also makes for better outcomes. As any engineer will testify, the greater the diversity in the possible solution set, the better the solution turns out to be.
And increasing diversity in STEM takes money. Contact your Member of Congress, if you want this to change.
How engineering helps
Some examples of engineering solutions can illustrate why it can be worth putting our best diversity and funding feet forward.
- The disposable diaper is a marvel of moisture-banishing, comfort-preserving, wrap-around sanitation. Bill Hammack, a.k.a., “engineerguy” on YouTube, avows that the engineering behind it, “stuns me.”
- The only house in the neighborhood that stayed dry in recent Texas flooding benefited from this home-assembled dam.
- And these weird hydrophobic nanorods suggest a bounty of beneficial applications, including low-cost water purification, portable water harvesting equipment, and fabric that keeps skin dry no matter how much sweat comes off it.
And finally …
A simple machine, the lever, inspired Archimedes to believe he could move the world. High Tech High teacher Scott Swaaley looks to Archimedes-like simple machines to fuse students’ technical and language arts powers of creativity in his MAKEShift Poetry project.
In this project, students work in pairs to write a short poem that demonstrates understanding of figurative language. They then design and fabricate a mechanism that illustrates the meaning, theme, or concept of their poem.
We’re partial to High Tech High, one, because it’s the site of much awesome, creative “STEM+A” teaching, and two, a Start Engineering niece goes there and has plumbed the arts-technology axis in her own uniquely splendid ways.
If you have examples of STEM learning that make the case for diversity, in either participation rates or makeup of the solution set, let us know. Or leave a comment below. We’re avid collectors of such examples of inspiration.
And don’t keep these things to yourself. Share with interested friends or colleagues.
Eric Iversen is VP for Learning and Communications at Start Engineering. He has written and spoken widely on engineering education in the K-12 arena. You can write to him about this topic, especially when he gets stuff wrong, at email@example.com.
You can also follow along on Twitter @StartEngNow.
Just published! A bilingual version of Dream, Invent, Create, for making engineering come alive in Spanish and English at the same time.
Our Dream, Invent, Create Teacher’s Guide makes it easy to get started teaching elementary school engineering, even with no training in the field.
And for any outreach or education program, all of our popular K-12 engineering books, What’s Engineering?, Dream, Invent, Create, and Start Engineering: A Career Guide, can help deliver an accessible, engaging picture of engineering to all kinds of K-12 audiences.
Photos: Kids with laptops, courtesy of Code.org; President Obama and coding girls, courtesy of The White House; MAKEShift Poetry, courtesy of High Tech High.