Sen. Kamala Harris introduced new legislation to help students from underrepresented communities gain access to educational materials, mentorships, and work experience related to the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). On May 2, the Democratic senator and 2020 presidential hopeful introduced the 21st Century STEM for Girls and Underrepresented Minorities Act, which would authorize a $40 million competitive grant program for school districts to improve participation in STEM education among girls, students of color, LGBTQ students, disabled students, and kids from low-income neighborhoods.
“When we have more women, people of color, LGBTQ folks, and people with disabilities in STEM jobs, we get better results,” said Harris in a press release. “Preparing our nation’s students for the jobs of the 21st century starts in the classroom, and we must ensure that the benefits of that education are shared equally with those who are currently underrepresented in STEM professions.”
The bill seeks to provide funding for school districts across the country, and ultimately increase opportunities for women and minorities to secure high wage jobs in STEM fields. According to a 2018 Pew Social Trends report, , 69% of STEM workers in the U.S. are white, while only 9% of the STEM workforce is black and 7% are Hispanic. If passed, funding for Harris’ bill would be allocated towards:
- Providing tutoring and mentoring programs in STEM subjects.
- Providing afterschool and summer activities designed to encourage interest and skill-building in STEM subjects.
- Providing subsidies to minimize the costs of STEM-related educational materials, equipment, field trips, internships, and work experiences.
- Educating parents about the opportunities and advantages of STEM careers.
- Providing professional development services to teachers, principals, and other personnel aimed at reduced racial and gender bias.
In addition to Harris, co-sponsors of the legislation include Democratic senators Dick Durbin, Sherrod Brown, Amy Klobuchar, and Jacky Rosen. The bill is also being supported by Girls Who Code, Hispanic Heritage Foundation, NAACP, National Society of Black Engineers, and other organizations.
Harris, who became the first black woman to serve as Attorney General in California and the second black woman to ever be elected as a U.S. Senator, opened up about being second-guessed and misunderstood throughout her career while speaking at the BLACK ENTERPRISE Women of Power Summit back in February:
“I’ve had the setback of attempting to run for office that nobody thought that we could win and all that comes with that,” she said, revealing that people have doubted her ability to become an elected official. However, she added that she has used people’s negative perceptions of her as a source of motivation. “Good, underestimate me. I can work with that,” she said.