Symposium and Community Conversation

Creating Inclusive K-12 Learning Environments to Support Diversity in STEM

Hosted by KID Museum & The Children’s Opportunity Fund

KID Museum is transforming what and how kids learn. With a focus on equity and social justice, KID Museum is creating space for all kids to unlock their creative potential to become the innovators and changemakers of the future.

Special Guest: Dr. Ebony McGee
Professor of Education, Diversity and STEM Education at Vanderbilt University

Dr. Shanika Hope
Director of Computer Science Education at Google

Dr. Monifa McKnight
Superintendent of Montgomery County Public Schools

Dr. Rudy Ruiz
Founder & CEO of Edifying Teachers; VP & Partner at FourPoint Education Partners

Byron Johns (Facilitator)
Chair, Montgomery County NAACP Parent Council

Part I: Disparities in STEM

& Why it Matters

Throughout the 1970’s, 80’s, and 90’s, there was a steady increase in Black and Brown scientists and engineers. But for the past 20 years, we’ve gone backwards, with fewer nonwhite youth pursuing STEM careers, even as demand for workers in these fields grows at a rapid pace.

STEM careers offer higher salaries, and so the disparity in STEM perpetuates income inequalities, even as it hinders economic growth for society as a whole. It also hinders innovation, which depends upon different perspectives and experiences to thrive. Without the contributions of people from different backgrounds, income levels, and genders (those whom Raj Chetty calls the “lost Einsteins,” who might have become innovators but were denied the opportunity), we all lose.

If we are going to disrupt the system and make necessary change, we must first understand the structure and culture of STEM, and what minoritized students face in order to succeed in this arena. Dr. Ebony McGee presented her research on this subject to a packed room at KID Museum. It resonated deeply. Person after person — Black STEM professionals from both our panel and the audience — stood up to say that she was describing their lived experience, too.

But where do we go from here? What does the new village look like? Dr. McGee and our distinguished panel of experts tackled this issue, upending existing norms, and establishing concrete steps we can take to dismantle disparities in STEM and build more inclusive learning (and work) environments.

Part II: Broken Pipes

Dr. McGee’s research delves into the structural hurdles Black and Brown students face in STEM. Herself a “recovering” engineer, Dr. McGee uncovers the toxic culture of STEM, from which an astounding 61 – 67% of Black and Brown students are “leaking out” of the pipeline: “If a plumber came to your house and saw 67% of the water leaking out of the pipes, they wouldn’t say we should patch those pipes — they would say the pipes are broken and need to be taken out.”

Black and Brown students must navigate:

LACK OF RESOURCES

Black and Brown STEM students must operate in a structure that was not designed for them — and is often hostile and alienating. They face roadblocks on multiple levels: lack of AP classes, lack of college counseling, lack of role models, and a lack of resources.

IMPOSTER SYNDROME

Minoritized students who excel at STEM are often made to feel like “imposters,” as well as the pressure of being a “model minority.” This produces an enormous amount of stress, threatening a student’s continuing in the field, and resulting in physical and mental health strains. Students are often told that these feelings are all in their head, but as Dr. McGee explains it, “you can’t yoga pose your way out of a toxic environment.”

LACK OF BLACK TEACHERS

Public school systems are becoming more diverse — 54% of public school students are nonwhite — but students don’t see teachers who look like them in the classroom. The number of Black teachers has been declining over the years. In Maryland, 1 in 5 schools have no black teachers at all, and nearly half of Maryland schools have no Latinx teachers. Students need to see someone they can identify with; they need role models.

FRAGILE STEM IDENTITY

Black and Brown students in STEM often have to defend why they are there and navigate implicit bias, maintaining a fragile identity within a sometimes hostile environment. Black, white and Latinx students declare STEM majors at roughly the same rates, but two-thirds of Black and Latinx students leave these majors before they graduate. According to data from the National Science Foundation, Black graduates with degrees in engineering and math declined from 2001 to 2016. “Imagine a world where they could just love the math,” says Dr. McGee. “And not have to always prove that they should be there.”

Part III: What does the new village look like?

“We want to produce not just a Black and Brown STEM population… but Black and Brown STEM founders, entrepreneurs, innovators, owners, designers…” Dr. Ebony McGee

WHAT SCHOOLS CAN DO

  • Provide early and consistent exposure to STEM in elementary school, giving kids a sense of belonging and cementing interest and confidence in STEM.
  • Develop co-curricular solutions that purposefully focus on closing the equity gap during the school day, not just as an enrichment opportunity.
  • Work with teachers and administrators to create supportive pathways for students.
  • Support teachers and administrators to create more stability and retention.
  • Invest in teachers: provide externships and PD for teachers to build their skills and knowledge.
  • Empower teachers as changemakers.

We have to start STEM exposure earlier, before middle school. And what they do at KID Museum has to exist in the classroom too.”

- Dr. McKnight