The STEM fields — science, technology, engineering, and math — are now at the heart of the American economy, yet Black Americans only make up 2% of the technology workforce. But in 2015, the lack of diversity in the STEM fields has become a headline issue, with the #ILookLikeanEngineer hashtag becoming a major trending topic on Twitter.
Even though Silicon Valley STEM workers remain mostly white and mostly male, two historically Black Atlanta colleges are shaking things up for the better.
Clark Atlanta University’s new president, Ronald Johnson, recently completed his first 100 days on the job, and he says he’s already making the STEM fields a priority.
“Our faculty has taken the giant step in reviewing the curriculum and refocusing it on a set of competencies [that students] need to have for successful careers no matter what. By doing that, they are redefining the concept of what higher education means in the context of liberal arts and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) institutions,” said Johnson.
And at Morehouse College, you’ll find one-in-ten of all the black men in the nation working towards a Ph.D. in computer science.
“That’s a historic number,” said Kinnis Gosha, an assistant professor of computer science. “This is counting every single Black male from every school in the nation. Of all of those African-American Ph.D. male students, 13 percent are coming from Morehouse, from this lab…Morehouse literally is changing the computer science field in terms of diversity with those types of numbers.”
In some ways, the growing number of African-Americans within the tech industry makes sense, given that population’s high rates of adoption of technology. Estimates vary, but about 64% of U.S. adults owned smartphones as of 2014; however, smartphone penetration climbs to 81% among African-Americans. Not only that, but black Americans also use apps like Twitter more than other demographics, and are more likely to share opinions and reviews online.
The STEM fields represent some of the most important new jobs being created, and it’s crucial that young people are adequately prepared for entry-level jobs in the field. The National Math and Science Initiative recently reported that STEM job creation will outpace non-STEM jobs over the next decade, growing at 17% and 9.8% respectively. STEM jobs are also more likely to be high-income jobs, which can provide a pathway to the middle and upper class for college graduates.
If Morehouse and Clark University continue focusing on these disciplines, Atlanta could soon become a pioneer in STEM field diversity.