Editorial: UMN is making strides in promoting diversity in STEM

Twenty-nine percent of CSE’s faculty hired in the last 5 years is female.

Daily Editorial Board

Student groups in the College of Science and Engineering such as Out in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, Society for Women Engineers, and other CSE diversity-oriented groups came together Monday to discuss diversity shortfalls in STEM education and what CSE ought to do in the future to improve.

Dean Samuel Mukasa’s remarks in his keynote address are representative of a leader strongly committed to ensuring a diverse student body. CSE currently boasts an all-time high of 26.2 percent women in the college, including undergraduate and graduate students. What’s more, 29 percent of CSE’s faculty hired in the last 5 years is female.

To some, these numbers may seem rather underwhelming, but national numbers by various studies report even lower values. A 2015 study from the National Student Clearinghouse reported that 19 percent of students pursuing an engineering bachelor’s degree are women. The number is even lower for fields like computer science — 18 percent. The national numbers are even more startling when considering wage gaps. These types of gaps don’t simply exist between gender; they also exist in terms of racial and socioeconomic divides.

Ensuring that any student that demonstrates interest towards STEM education has access to it ought to be a vital goal of the college. Dean Mukasa’s dedication to the development of outreach programs in various Twin Cities communities is one of the many ways to do this. In recent years, groups like SWE have undertaken vast efforts, nationally, and at our own University, to develop partnerships with K-12 education systems.

More could be done with further developing programs for students in high school to participate in research and innovation at the University. Some high schools already offer these kinds of opportunities, but collaborations with the Cedar-Riverside Community School, for example, and similar education platforms could be a unique way to develop more hands-on appreciation for the scientific process over a longer period and with underserved communities.

Without demonstrating that science and engineering is a laborious process — one where failure and success via experimentation are equally important — the excitement generated surrounding engineering could potentially be based purely on excitement.

The goal of outreach programs cannot simply be to get students to attend the first year of school in engineering, but ought to be to develop the resilience to graduate with a STEM degree. Without more systematic and sustained outreach initiatives, this could be more challenging.

Other projects at the University, such as the “This Is What STEM Looks Like” campaign by the CSE Student Board, and other initiatives by various other student groups, are also important to maintaining the level of diversity already present.

Certainly, there is tremendous room for improvement. Open dialogues and forums to discuss the challenges associated with enriching diversity in STEM education, as well as opportunities for students and faculty to collaborate in addressing this problem, are all ways that the University can continue to improve its numbers.