Ensuring more active participation by black Americans in STEM fields is a matter of guaranteeing people a place at the table, as Morgan State University math education professor Roni Ellington puts it.
That was the crux of her TEDxBaltimore talk given in January, “An Angry Black Woman’s Rant on the Future of STEM Education.”
Numbers reported last year by the U.S. Department of Education indicate that 36 percent of black students who began bachelor’s degrees in STEM fields in 2003 and 2004 switched their majors. In 2009, according to inSPIRE STEM USA, just 7 percent of bachelor’s degrees in STEM fields were earned by black students.
In her talk, Ellington, who attended Morgan State University on a full scholarship and eventually earned a master’s degree in mathematics and a Ph.D. in math education, said the way to increase participation in STEM disciplines by black students is to create an “inclusive framework” for teaching, which she outlined in four parts:
- Empower students to pursue hard subjects even as such subjects become more difficult over time. (Or: addition is easy, but calculus is hard.)
- Teachers must see themselves as “vehicles for students’ lives to change.” Ellington, who grew up in Washington, D.C., didn’t take an interest in math until teachers pushed her to take more rigorous courses.
- Look for the “social and cultural capital” that already exists in impoverished communities.
- Think outside the book: how could robotics, for instance, be an avenue through which students can gain interest in STEM subjects?
Watch Roni Ellington speak at TEDxBaltimore: