SOLVE THE EQUATION: Women outnumbered in STEM careers

National STEM Day opportunity to close gap and encourage women to explore science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education

STEM is the abbreviation for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. Careers in these fields are highly lucrative, very competitive, and exceedingly in demand across the country. However, statistics indicate that women remain underrepresented in these critical fields.

According to a 2018 report by the National Science Foundation, women make up half of the total U.S. college-educated workforce, but only 28 percent of the science and engineering workforce in America.

Additionally, race and ethnicity are significant factors in rates of participation, and several racial and ethnic minority groups continue to be significantly underrepresented. Specifically, as of 2015 Hispanics, African Americans, and American Indians/Alaska Natives made up a smaller share of the science and engineering workforce (11 percent) than their proportion in the general population (27 percent of U.S. working age population).

This Sunday, November 8 is National STEM Day, an opportunity to raise awareness about these alarming trends and the steps needed to increase representation.

Making a difference in NYC: The Knowledge House

Jerelyn Rodriguez is a native of the Bronx and a graduate of Columbia University. In 2014, she and Joe Carrano co-founded the nonprofit The Knowledge House. Based in the South Bronx, it aims to use technology education to help alleviate poverty by uplifting low-income communities.

“The Bronx is the borough most negatively impacted by the pandemic, with high Covid-19 infection rates and rising unemployment. On National STEM Day we’re excited to raise awareness of the economic opportunities available to young people pursuing STEM careers,” Rodriguez said.

“We’re so excited to be working with AHA to strengthen our job training programs to provide jobseekers the digital skills needed more than ever. Support from AHA will also help us measure how our economic resiliency programs impact health outcomes in the Bronx”

The Knowledge House recently received investment from the Bernard J. Tyson Impact Fund, a new fund of the American Heart Association. The funding was given to help the nonprofit continue its work transforming the tech industry by creating a pipeline of young talented workers equipped with the in-demand skills needed to thrive in today’s economy.

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the unemployment rate in the Bronx has risen to 25 percent, according to the United States Federal Reserve. A typical STEM worker earns two-thirds more than those employed in other fields, according to Pew Research Center. Preparing members of underrepresented communities for careers that are in demand may help reverse decades of negative economic and health outcomes.

Jennifer Paulino, a 2017 graduate of The Knowledge House says that as a Black Latina, she doesn’t see a lot of people that look like her in the field.

“The Knowledge House is making great strides in creating employment opportunities in diverse communities, making a long-lasting impact, something of which I’m very proud to be a part of.” Said Paulino, who is currently a front-end engineer for a company that works in AI, robotics and mobile technology.

Trendsetters: STEM Goes Red

Growing awareness of the gender and racial gaps in STEM has created an increase in female participation in science and engineering over the past two decades. And yet by the time students reach college, women are significantly underrepresented in STEM majors — for instance, only around 21% of engineering majors are women and only around 19% of computer and information science majors are women. The American Heart Association is working to close this gap and promote equitable gains through it’s Go Red for Women movement’s STEM Goes Red campaign.

This year, STEM Goes Red celebrates its third year in New York City.  The initiative invites high schoolers from across the city and introduces them to inspiring, successful women in STEM, current events in scientific research, interactive hands-on learning experiences, and mentoring. The goal is to help young women see that it is possible to create their own career paths.

“My passion for science started when I was a young girl,” said Jennifer Hodge, PhD, North America Medical Affairs Lead for Early Pipeline and Gene Therapy at Pfizer and Chair of 2020 NYC STEM Goes Red. “As someone who received mentorship from strong STEM women across my career, it is an honor to chair this initiative.”

Dr. Hodge is a classically trained Immunologist who uses her expertise to understand how the immune system may be a therapeutic target for disease. In her role at Pfizer, she is responsible for applying advances in science and technology to address unmet therapeutic needs in rare diseases. She hopes to be a role model for the next generation of women leaders.

“As women and scientists, we have a responsibility to envision a better future for ourselves and our loved ones,” Hodge says. “We can use our skills and talents to build a healthier, more equitable world. By supporting initiatives like STEM Goes Red, I hope to inspire more young women to follow in my footsteps. Now more than ever, we need leaders with a strong foundation in the STEM fields.”