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At Hub camp, interest in science is skyrocketing

Victor Kakulu | 7/16/2008, 6:13 a.m.

“When compared to other nations, the math and science achievement of U.S. pupils and the rate of STEM degree attainment appear inconsistent with a nation considered the world leader in scientific innovation,” education policy specialist Jeffrey J. Kuenzi wrote in the March 2008 briefing.

The need for answers is particularly pressing for minority students. A 2005 report published by the Commission on Professionals in Science and Technology (CPST) found that while African Americans accounted for 10.7 percent of the U.S. workforce in 2004, they held just 6.2 percent of available jobs in STEM fields. Similarly. Hispanics made up 12.9 percent of the U.S. labor force in 2004, but just 5.3 percent of STEM workers.

“The lack of significant progress by underrepresented minorities in STEM occupations does not necessarily mean that efforts to fix the problem have been in vain,” Richard Ellis, co-principal investigator on the CPST project, said at the time of the report’s release. “But it does show that there remains much room for improvement …”

The program provides a unique opportunity for participating students, and does so at a critical age: before high school, when an abundance of issues could permanently discourage students from pursuing their interests in the STEM disciplines.

Richard Harris, the director of Northeastern University Programs in Multicultural Engineering, and Claire Duggan, associate director of the university’s Center for STEM Education, both said they were pleased with the enthusiasm the program has sparked in the students since its introduction last year. They also noted that determining the camp’s effectiveness will require long-term assessments of participating students throughout high school and into college.

The two said additional funds are necessary to extend the program to other deserving students. Harris said he believes the issue of representation in STEM fields among urban youth must become part of a national agenda championed by the president, with necessary funding allocated to initiatives like the Northeastern camp.

“As historically underrepresented students become a greater part of the high school and ultimately college-aged populations,” said Harris, “there must be an effort to help them understand the values math and science will have in helping them compete in a global economy, [especially] as many formerly underdeveloped nations — China, India, etc. — prepare their populations to compete in these areas.”