Libraries are logical, obvious partners & collaborators for increasing minority student engagement in science and technology

Last Friday, I participated in a policy roundtable on “Leveraging Community Colleges for Minority Student STEM Engagement” organized by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies and hosted at Microsoft’s Policy Office in Washington, D.C. This roundtable meeting launched a Joint Center initiative on a topic in which libraries of all types are becoming increasingly involved. A broad range of stakeholders was represented at the roundtable, from the National Alliance of Black School Educators, the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, and the National Black Caucus of State Legislators, to Verizon, TechNet, and the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation.

For many years, national policy makers have lamented the low number of students who focus on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields–and the consequent risk to our economic and technological competitiveness. Minority students, in particular, are underrepresented in STEM fields.

White House advisor Thomas Kalil discussed how the Obama Administration has placed a major focus of its educational initiatives on community colleges, as evidenced through the Advanced Graduation Initiative and the first-ever White House Summit on Community Colleges. In addition, FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn and federal officials from several other agencies explained the urgent national need to increase the number of students in STEM fields.

As we know, the nation is evolving towards a workforce with an increasing percentage of higher-skill jobs, especially those based on STEM fields. But we’re not only talking about scientists, engineers, and information technologists. Many jobs–including those in the service sector–now require some level of technological understanding and ability. So we are talking about increasing the number of STEM graduates, as well as students who undertake an increased level of STEM course work but who do not major in these fields.

While we need greater STEM engagement for all U.S. students, minority students need accelerated engagement because of their much lower participation in STEM majors and courses. And community colleges represent an important link in the educational chain: approximately 60% of Black, Hispanic, and Native American graduates with STEM degrees attended community colleges at some point during their education.

My invitation was an acknowledgment that libraries are key resources in community colleges. I pointed out that libraries exist in pretty much every community college (a fantastic advantage when scaling programs or initiatives across many community colleges), and that they can contribute in myriad ways through collecting specialized career resources, facilitating study groups, and so on–both in the physical library and virtually. Libraries are logical and obvious partners and collaborators.

As this initiative progresses in 2012, I’ll issue updates as warranted, and engage relevant ALA entities as appropriate. I also welcome feedback and examples from libraries — particularly community college libraries — about how you are engaging with STEM curricula.

Alan S. Inouye, Ph.D.
Director, Office for Information Technology Policy (OITP)

About Alan Inouye

Alan S. Inouye is the director of ALA's Office for Information Technology Policy (OITP). Previously, he was the coordinator of the President's Information Technology Advisory Committee in the Executive Office of the President and a study director at the National Academy of Sciences. Alan completed his Ph.D. at the University of California at Berkeley.

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