Alicia C. Dowd, co-director of USC’s Center for Urban Education, moderated a Congressional briefing on Feb. 15 focusing on the findings and recommendations in “Expanding Underrepresented Minority Participation: America’s Science and Technology Talent at the Crossroads,” a report by the National Academy of Sciences.
The briefing was held by the Congressional Diversity and Innovation Caucus under the leadership of two of the caucus’ founding members and current co-chairs, Rep. Michael Honda (D-Calif.) and Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas).
Introducing the two Congressional leaders, Dowd emphasized the importance of their commitment to expanding participation in science and technology fields to currently underrepresented racial and ethnic minority groups.
The caucus was established to communicate the importance of promoting diversity in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) in order to reach America’s innovation and competitiveness goals. In 2006, underrepresented minority groups comprised 28.5 percent of the nation’s population, but comprised only 9.1 percent of college-educated Americans in science.
Among other priorities, the report emphasizes the need for institutional leadership to develop a commitment to inclusiveness in STEM. It calls on campuses to conduct “deliberate self-appraisals” focusing on campus climate and to “audit” their legacies of exclusion. It recommends that colleges and universities track student progress through the curriculum.
In her remarks, Dowd, an associate professor in the USC Rossier School of Education and the principal investigator of a study funded by the National Science Foundation to characterize Latina and Latino student pathways to STEM degrees, noted that the Center for Urban Education has created tools to conduct the self-appraisals and data analyses called for in “Talent at the Crossroads.”
A primary focus of the study has been on understanding the values, behaviors and commitments of faculty and administrators who act as “institutional agents” for cultural and structural changes in STEM fields.
Based on the results of case study interviews at Hispanic-serving institutions, the Center for Urban Education created Tools for Enhancing Latina and Latino Participation in STEM, a kit which includes a self-assessment inventory for auditing cultural and administrative practices in support of Latino STEM majors.
Honda discussed the importance of student aid in getting young people into college.
“Pell Grants are key for minority representation in all fields, including STEM,” Honda said. “As policymakers and leaders, we have to make sure our efforts are for each child in every community.”
The proposed $2 billion in cuts to federal support of university research in the pending 2011 fiscal year budget was a concern to Johnson, who spoke of the need to make sure all underrepresented students are prepared for the modern workforce.
“We simply cannot just say STEM for the smart,” she said.
While in D.C., Dowd met with key legislators and education officials to discuss the participation of underrepresented minority groups in STEM fields. Among them were Juan Sepulveda, director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans, and Joseph Mais, aide of Rep. Raul Grijalva, who also is vice chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Education Task Force.
“I shared with them that CUE has developed the data tools to pursue the strategies recommended in the ‘Crossroads’ report,” Dowd said. “They were very receptive to our ideas. We look forward to continuing to build on these relationships to support the goal of expanding diversity in STEM.”
One item that Dowd featured in her talks was the Center for Urban Education’s benchmarking equity and student success tool, which enables colleges and universities to identify where students are being lost – whether in gatekeeper courses or at difficult transition points – and to set benchmark-performance goals to improve equity and effectiveness. The tool will be used during a series of workshops this spring involving more than 10 California community colleges.
Dowd was accompanied by USC Rossier Ph.D. students Araceli Espinoza, Tiffany Jones and Raquel Rall, all of whom are engaged in studies of educational and STEM policy.