Dr. Pablo Molina, the Chief Information Officer at Southern Connecticut State University (who recently won an award for “Most Influential Hispanics in IT”), is one such person digging deep into this pipeline. He is one of many staff members at SCSU who have been looking into grants and special programs to recruit minorities into STEM education pathways.
“I think there is a multi-prong approach to do this,” says Molina. “First and foremost we need good academic programs where Latino students can feel welcome, culturally and intellectually. We need those programs and those institutions. While there are many, it is only recently that we have been opening up to diversity in science, technology, engineering, mathematics…particularly technology.”
Molina says mentorship is of great importance to this progress, and can work to ease trepidations Latinos feel about the unknown aspects of these types of fields. Molina believes that role models, especially in regards to Latinos in STEM fields, can work to open students eyes to careers they may never have considered.
With more than 10,000 baby boomers reaching retirement daily for the next 19 years in STEM-related fields — and with the growing technological demands of our society — STEM jobs have grown three times as fast as non-STEM jobs over the past decade. The Bureau of Labor Statistics also reports there will be 2.7 million new jobs in the STEM sectors by 2018, and the number of students graduating from related fields…nowhere near this. And since Latinos are the fastest-growing segment of the American population (standing at 50 million people; and that number is expected to double by 2050), it isn’t hard to recognize the imperative role they could play in filling these vacant STEM professions.
Andre Arbelaez, President of the Hispanic IT Executive Council, says if we can get the Latino youth to enter into the STEM fields it will be “a win-win situation.”
“We have enough doctors and lawyers; we need IT specialists,” says Arbelaez. “We have a responsibility to the kids here in the U.S. to find employment and give them a path that they can go forward with. This is a path they can go forward with and it also fills a great need.”
The only problem is that historically Latinos have not been interested in such fields. Arbelaez argues that in order to change this, we need to create ways to really engage Latino students in the STEM fields, and dig deeper into the pipeline to get Latino students studying these particular fields.
“These (STEM) fields are not where Latinos traditionally have seen family members or friends or older people work,” he explains, “and hence it has not even been on their radar screen. That’s why it is important for those of us who are succeeding professionally to have a personal mandate to break those stereotypes; and one of the ways you do it is by leading by example.”
Arbelaez agrees in the importance of role models and mentorship. He says he puts a lot of effort into these two areas as well. He calls it, “Pushing up and pulling up.”
“We push up executives,” says Arbelaez, “and get them more visibility than they would get, and at the same time take the young rising stars and identify them and put them in mentor programs. It’s our responsibility to turn around as we walk through that corporate door and leave it open for the next generation.”
Both Molina and Arbelaez believe not only in the necessity, but in the benefit of filling the STEM pipeline with more diversity, specifically with the untapped group of Latino students, who are, as Molina says, “Very committed and dedicated students, and who would no doubt make outstanding technology professionals.”
Molina says he would gladly be a mentor to any Latino student interested in pursuing a tech career, and encourages those interested to seek him out through SCSU. He says that he would freely give his time to guide Latino youth into tech fields because he considers diversity of great importance to the integrity of the STEM fields and also to the competence of our country’s technological future.
“Technology is transforming our society,” says Molina, “and this is a huge opportunity for Latinos to have a wider input and help shape changes in our society.”