African American leadership in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields is nothing new. From doctor, engineer, and academic Dr. Mae Jemison; former U.S. Air Force officer and fighter pilot Dr. Guion S. Bluford; entrepreneur, iOS developer, and student Kaya Thomas; to Blavity — a tech multimedia company — co-founder Morgan DeBaun, the obstacles to innovation and creation in STEM careers have been obliterated in the African American community when equitable access to technology and rich coursework have been made available.
The development and release of the U.S. Department of Education Office of Educational Technology’s 2016 National Education Technology Plan (NETP16) provides students, educators, and other caring and concerned adults with the necessary tools to ensure equitable digital access and active use, including students of color.
In a world where all students, no matter their geographic or socioeconomic status, have access to digital and technological resources that support, encourage, and empower their learning in and outside of the classroom, more African American students will take leadership roles in STEM. When all students are encouraged to use digital devices in active ways that support creation and innovation, as opposed to passive usage, such as watching videos, surfing social media platforms, or simply submitting homework and checking grades, more career options become available. When students use technology to learn in active ways, they retain information longer, technical skills increase, and self-motivation and esteem improve. Combined, these skill sets enable broader pathways to postsecondary education and career readiness in the global 21st century.
The key is ensuring equitable experiences in STEM for all students. The White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans works with colleagues, stakeholders and communities to increase the number of African American students succeeding in STEM courses and careers in by:
- Providing resources for African American students and their families discussing the importance of STEM and why it is essential for students to develop the skills and experiences needed to be STEM proficient in the global 21st century labor market (and to otherwise equip caring and concerned adults with the information and resources needed to encourage/support STEM scholars);
- Bringing STEM learning opportunities to all African American students (including increased support for out-of-school, especially summer, learning opportunities). Putting particular focus on those opportunities housed in public facilities, such as parks, recreation centers, and post-secondary institutions, where low-and middle-income African American children gain access to meaningful STEM curricula and concepts;
- Familiarizing more educators with STEM backgrounds/expertise, with a focus on ensuring diversity; and
- Making more representative the number of African American college students completing STEM degrees and courses of study who are also able to study and work abroad to make critical international connections.
Combined, these opportunities create platforms and conversations to reframe the negative narratives surrounding African American students’ STEM success and access, and highlight policy recommendations, including:
- Providing culturally- and technologically-relevant educator preparation and support for technology proficiency;
- Creating attainable expectations to equitable digital access; and
- Providing pathways that encourage active technological usage to improve STEM outcomes for all students.
We continue to support creative ways to ensure African American students have the access, support, and tools to succeed in STEM and STEM careers, and will highlight effective practices, resources and opportunities this week during BlackTech Week, an annual celebration of the innovation, successes and achievement of people of color, especially African Americans’, STEM achievements.
We encourage everyone to join our Twitter Chat discussion on Wednesday, February 17 at 12:00 p.m. EST, with BlackTech Week creators Code Fever Miami, and other experts, as we explore ways to improve active digital usage, cutting-edge technologies, entrepreneurial innovation, and opportunities to increase African American students’ access to and success in STEM. Join the discussion using #AfAmEdChat and #BlackTechWeek and follow us at @AfAmEducation.
Although the challenges may be significant, we have seen that by working together in a thoughtful, deliberate way, we can make a real difference.
Venicia Gray is a Congressional Black Caucus Fellow with the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans.
To read the 2016 National Education Technology Plan visit tech.ed.gov/netp