Promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in STEM is a moral responsibility and a prerequisite for effective, transformative science. For publicly-funded science to serve only a narrow slice of society inherently limits potential discoveries and threatens to reinforce existing systems of oppression and bias. Fundamental quality of life issues—ranging from the lack of green space in low-income communities to widespread bias in AI—can be directly remedied through STEM.
Any STEM professional must be equipped to act with STEMpathy—to use an approach to STEM that intentionally incorporates a diverse set of identities in order to reflect and shape the world in an equitable manner. Students already demonstrate an inherent interest in such topics. In a study of 11,000 letters from middle and high school students, the top ten identified areas of interest included education, race/ethnicity, women/gender, and equality/fairness.
Teachers also play a critical role in fostering student cultural awareness and competency, and research demonstrates that they also cultivate a desire to affect progress on these issues. A survey of 607 U.S. K-12 educators, representative of the United States’ three million teachers, indicated that most teachers are aware of the effects socio-economic factors have on students’ experiences. Many teachers, however, find it difficult to pursue these classroom discussions in addition to their other teaching responsibilities. As such, STEM curricula lack opportunities to engage with DEI-focused concepts.
Concerted and conscious action to shift STEM mindsets may thus start in the high school classroom. Students need to be taught not only the scientific method and scientific discourse, but also how to approach their science in a manner that best uplifts all people, regardless of personal identity. In short, we have to redefine STEM.