Alicia C. Dowd, co-director of the USC Rossier School of Education‘s Center for Urban Education, was one of the five participants invited to testify before members of Congress during a hearing on broadening participation for underrepresented students interested in pursuing degrees in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).
The hearing, hosted by the House Subcommittee on Research and Science Education in Washington, D.C., was held March 16.
Researchers at the Center for Urban Education are working to demonstrate that the most important starting point for broadening participation in these fields is to reframe the lack of diversity as problems of institutional practices and practitioner knowledge.
The center is currently in the dissemination phase of a three-year National Science Foundation-funded project of Latina and Latino students in science, technology, engineering and math.
Dowd was invited to give the subcommittee a better understanding of the obstacles faced by students from different racial, cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds. Congress is currently in the process of examining National Science Foundation programs authorized under the 2007 America COMPETES Act. The goal of the act is to strengthen the foundation’s research and education missions.
“Changing demographics means that by 2050, 55 percent of the college population will be from groups that are currently minorities,” said Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio), vice chair of the subcommittee. “Studies show that regardless of background, one-third of all incoming freshmen plan to major in a STEM field, but the fraction of students completing STEM degrees varies widely by race.”
Dowd was invited to share her ideas for widening the STEM pipeline and discuss efforts being made to overcome barriers at both mainstream and minority serving institutions. She also was asked to share her thoughts on how federal agencies can support these efforts.
“Recent research documents that racial stigma and discrimination create significant barriers to the participation of underrepresented racial-ethnic groups in STEM,” Dowd said during her testimony. “To improve diversity, we must use the tools of culturally responsive pedagogy to dispel the negative racial climates created when students are treated as if they are all alike.”
Dowd said it is imperative that the teaching force has the cultural competencies to dispel any sense of racial discrimination, bias or racial stigma.
“One factor that perpetuates this issue is that our STEM teaching force is not as diverse as the student body,” Dowd said. “We teach as we were taught and unwittingly reproduce harsh campus climates that too often devalue racial-ethnic diversity.”
After her opening statement, Dowd took questions from members of Congress. The remarks focused on how to encourage minority Ph.D. recipients to go into teaching and how the National Science Foundation could enhance its “broader impacts” requirement.
At one point in the discussion, Dowd explained how the process of data collection and careful data analysis about instructional practices lies at the heart of her recommendations. She said this practice is often called process benchmarking, but it is also known as inquiry.
“Inquiry is a reflective practice about ‘how is what I am doing contributing to the success of my students?’ ” Dowd said. “And so that type of data collection is really necessary to reframe this problem from problems of students to problems of practice.”
To view a webcast of the hearing, visit http://science.house.gov/publications/hearings_markups_details.aspx?NewsID=2761