Black women make up only a small minority of students across STEM disciplines. A 2021 report by Pew Research Center shows that “The gender dynamics in STEM degree attainment mirror many of those seen across STEM job clusters.” The disparities of those who identify as Black and woman in comparison to others working in STEM are vast and have a connection to attaining long-term career goals.
According to the Pew Research data, Black and Hispanic adults are the most underrepresented when it comes to STEM careers. Add to that being a woman and the number of awarded STEM degrees are even smaller.
STEM can be the basis of a strong education
STEM can be a gamechanger when it comes to education. The broad scope of a STEM background can be a gateway to success particularly for those who experience oppressions due to race, gender identity, and other marginalized communities because careers available to those with degrees in STEM fields can be lucrative.
Higher education professional Brooke Abercrombie, MBA, and private practice physician Dr. Opal Williams, chose to study one of the many STEM fields and have yielded successful careers, despite just 9% of the population being Black workers, a number that has been unchanged since 2016.
Motivation for Studying STEM
A genuine passion for your field of study is essential to your success, in any field, but particularly under the STEM umbrella. Both Abercrombie and Dr. Williams showed an interest in STEM at a young age, excelling in STEM classes as early as elementary school and were put into special programs as a result.
Abercrombie explains with a palpable sense of passion what should be a motivator for girls who want to study the sciences. "Go into STEM because it helps you to better understand the world. Go into STEM because it helps you to think logically. Have a decent STEM education and actually do the work because it is personally enriching. And it gives you the opportunity to have a certain set of tools that you wouldn't have if you don't."
Value of a STEM Education Across Careers
Coming from a place of true interest and minimizing outside pressures, you are able to see the broad scope of value that an education in STEM can bring, even when a career in the fields may not be your end goal. Dr. Williams is quick to explain that, “You can take so much of what you’ve learned, and you can apply it in so many different ways” when describing her views on an education in STEM.
With the logic and problem-solving skills that are taught diligently throughout a STEM education, you can walk into the real world prepared for challenges. These soft skills are applicable throughout so many aspects of life that they are arguably more valuable than some of the material being taught.
“The world is full of math, right? So trying to avoid it is just silly" says Abercrombie, who is passionate about the idea that the logic and reasoning behind math concepts are so important as young Black women launch into their careers, and thus the value of a STEM education is even furthered.
How STEM is Particularly Beneficial to Black Women
Pursuing a passion in STEM can be a way to prove to yourself that you are worthy and capable. In a world where the cards can be stacked against you, STEM is a place where many Black women find the space to excel.
Defying stereotypes and redefining what it looks like to be successful as a Black woman in STEM is hard. But, with dedication and strong moral values, you too can prove the viability of your passion to yourself.
STEM, Is It Right For Me Afterall?
There is a lot behind an education and career in STEM; combining this with the identities of being Black and a woman can be overwhelming. As with everything in life, it is important that you honor your intuitions and passions. Finding ways to show up academically and professionally that feel authentic to you is vital.
So if you can truly see yourself getting excited to go to work in a STEM field every day despite potential hardships, then do it. Even if you are unsure about your future in STEM, using these disciplines as a starting point for your education can be beneficial in a multitude of ways. As discussed above, logic and reasoning skills really are at the basis of everything and a STEM education is an excellent way to perfect these.
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Katelyn Lewicky is a first-year undergraduate student at American University studying Business Administration with a concentration in Marketing and a minor in Graphic Design. She is passionate about uplifting small businesses and people in her community through social media marketing and blog writing