Minorities on the rise in STEM classes

Mariana Silva

Sherenaz Al-Haj Baddar was still a child when she realized she liked science classes much more than humanities. With the help of her mother, a math teacher who encouraged her to pursue her interest in science, she improved with math and numbers.

“If one finds herself interested in engineering, math, sciences and or computers, then that is a healthy sign,” Baddar wrote in an e-mail. “It would be such a loss not to invest in that.”

Baddar, now an assistant professor of computer sciences at the University of Jordan, graduated from Kent State with a Ph. D. in computer science in May 2009.

The University of Jordan, where Baddar majored in computer sciences, has many female undergraduate students who study sciences because they want to secure jobs after graduating and establish a “solid financial state,” she said.

“When I was at KSU, I sat down in some undergrad classes to help prepare for my preliminary exams and most of the students were males,” Baddar said. “It is also the case in the Master of Science and Ph. D. programs, with even fewer female enrollments.”

Although the numbers are still low, more minority students at Kent State are enrolling in science, technology, engineering and math courses than in past years, according to Research, Planning and Institutional Effectiveness at Kent State.

A Fall 2008 to Fall 2009 comparison shows the enrollment in STEM programs increased in all races and genders at Kent State and that minority groups had a greater increase than other groups.

Female enrollment in STEM courses increased about 15 percent from Fall 2008 to Fall 2009. Women, who made up 56.9 percent of the STEM majors population, were at 57.44 percent in 2009.

Black students, who made up 6.9 percent in the programs, made up 7.46 percent in 2009. Asian students went from 2.63 percent of the students enrolled in STEM courses in 2008 to 3.24 percent.

But those numbers could be better, according to the National Science Foundation. Because the number of minorities majoring in STEM in the U.S. isn’t growing that quickly, the NSF is changing how to approach minority students and is proposing a consolidation of programs to support racial and ethnic groups.

In the fiscal year of 2011, the NSF will receive $103 million to run a program called Comprehensive Broadening Participation of Undergraduates in STEM. Higher education institutions could also qualify for grants coming from a budget of $154 million for undergraduate and graduate student support.

Andrew Tonge, chair of the department of mathematical sciences, said he believes the increase in the enrollment at Kent State may be related to incentives given to the sciences in the past years. He said students are receiving more resources such as grants and scholarships for these courses and companies are looking for more diverse people.

Robert Walker, chair of the department of computer sciences, added that there are a variety of reasons for the increase in enrollment.

Not only are students, employers and government bodies more interested in STEM careers, but social opinions of the environment and the search for greener resources is also affecting enrollment.

However, Walker said the number of female, black and Hispanic students enrolled in computer sciences still isn’t close to the number of Caucasian, Asian or male students.

The increase of minorities in STEM courses at Kent State may be related to targeted recruitment by the university and active involvement with high schools, Walker said.

Timothy Moerland, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, said he is not certain about what caused the increase in enrollment of minorities for STEM programs, but the numbers may be the result of the first stages of a partnership with the Garret Morgan School of Science and Math in Cleveland.

“We are looking for to know more about what is working so we can do more of it,” Moerland said.

He also said faculty have been looking into projects they can submit to receive the NSF grants that support minorities.

“There are a number of things we are doing to try to increase this pipeline and get the Kent State name into the school systems and attract everyone from science and math education as well as under represented groups,” Moerland said.

Contact diversity reporter Mariana Silva at [email protected].