How to Get Kids Interested in STEM Fields
Black Enterprise Magazine January-March 2019 Issue

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Jason Coleman has been an engineer since childhood, he just didn't know it.

As a kid growing up on the South Side of Chicago, Jason Coleman loved to tinker with electronics, take apart household items, and build remote control cars. But he had no idea what an engineer was until after his first semester in college.

“I was doing engineering, I just didn’t know what it was called,” says Coleman, 32. “Growing up I wanted to be a pharmacist; I saw pharmacists and I heard stories about them making good money, but I never met engineers.”

Seun Phillips, on the other hand, grew up living with a civil engineer, his dad, in the same household, but before participating in a pre-college science program, he had no idea what his father or other engineers did from day to day. “The fact that I was good in math and science led me to be in the engineering realm,” says Phillips, 28. “I didn’t have exposure to what an engineer was, which speaks volumes to the fact that the STEM fields aren’t being promoted as much as they should be.”

Coleman and Phillips, products of the Chicago public school system, not only majored in mechanical and electrical engineering in college, respectively, but later worked several years as senior engineers at Motorola Inc., designing mobile phone devices. In 2009, the young men partnered with another friend, George Wilson, to launch Project SYNCERE (Supporting Youth’s Needs with Core Engineering Research Experiments), a free summer, after-school, and Saturday nonprofit program with the goal of increasing the number of minority, female, and underserved students pursuing careers in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

African American students are not pursuing STEM fields after graduating high school at the same rate  as students of other races.  From 2001 to 2009, no more than 8.5% of all students who progressed through college with a degree in science or engineering were black, and as of 2008, fewer than 4% of all people employed as scientists and engineers were African American, according to the most recently available data from the National Science Foundation.

Meanwhile, jobs in science, technology, engineering, and math are expected to grow by 17% between 2008 and 2018, nearly double the growth of all other fields, reports the U.S. Department of Commerce. STEM jobs also pay more. The average annual wage for all STEM occupations was $77,880 in May 2009, and only four of the 97 STEM occupations had mean wages below the U.S. average of $43,460, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This disparity in the face of expected job growth begs the question: How do parents, teachers, and schools produce more African American students who not only have an interest in STEM, but who also excel academically and envision  a future career for themselves in STEM?

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Marcia Wade Talbert

Marcia is a multimedia content producer focusing on technology at Black Enterprise Magazine. In this capacity she writes and assigns stories to educate readers about social media; digital integration; gadgets, apps, and software for business and professional development; minority tech startups; and careers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). In 2012, she received two Salute to Excellence Awards from the National Association of Black Journalists and was recognized by Blacks in Technology (BiT) as one of the Top 10 Black achievers in the tech arena for 2011 at SXSW in Austin, Texas. She has spoken about technology on panels for New York Social Media Week, at The 2012 Rainbow/PUSH Wall Street Summit, as well as at Black Enterprise’s Entrepreneurs Conference and Women of Power Summit. In 2011, chose her as one of 28 People of Color Impacting the Social Web, and through crowdsourcing she was listed as one of BlackWeb2.0's/HP's 50 Most Notable African American Tastemakers in Social Media and Technology for 2010. Since taking on the role of Tech editor in September 2010, she has conceived and produced five cover stories on Technology and/or STEM and countless articles, videos, and slideshows online. Before joining as an interactive general assignment reporter in 2008, she freelanced with Black Enterprise beginning in 2003 while working as the technical editor at Prepared Foods magazine. There she further honed her writing skills and became an authority on food ingredients, including ingredients used in food fortification and enrichment. Meanwhile, her freelancing with Black Enterprise and helped her stay current on issues pertaining to the financial and business welfare of African Americans. As a general reporter for Black Enterprise she attended and reported on the Democratic and Republican National Conventions, where she interviewed Valerie Jarrett, senior advisor and assistant to President Barack Obama and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. Marcia has a Bachelor of Science degree in Agriculture with an emphasis in food science from the University of Minnesota, and a Master of Science degree in journalism from Roosevelt University in Chicago. En route to her secondary degree, she served as the editor-in-chief of the Roosevelt University Torch, a weekly, student-run newspaper. An avid photographer and videographer, Marcia is one of several employees at BLACK ENTERPRISE who interned for the publishing company as a college student. She lives in New Jersey with her husband, a food scientist; her seventeen-month-old daughter; and “The Cat”, but still considers Chicago home.