The Center for Urban Education organized a workshop on Aug. 13 between faculty and administrators from Hispanic-serving community colleges and state universities in California to promote greater equity in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) for Latinos.
The emphasis on these students is for good reason: Latinos currently are severely underrepresented in many undergraduate science, technology, engineering and mathematics majors, in advanced degree programs and in the STEM workforce and professions.
Housed at the USC Rossier School of Education, the Center for Urban Education is nearing completion of a three-year study of Latinos in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Estela Mara Bensimon and Alicia C. Dowd, the research center’s co-directors, are examining ways to make the teaching of STEM more equitable and inclusive.
Improving outcomes for students of color is critical if the United States is to regain its economic footing around the world. For its part, the center is committed to closing the racial-ethnic equity gap and improving outcomes in higher education.
The main goal of the gathering was to bring together a diverse group of stakeholders, particularly Latino STEM educators, to engage in productive activities that could reduce inequities. Dowd said the most promising way to do that is to create a culturally responsive pedagogy for STEM classrooms and curriculum.
“I don’t think that exists yet in any significant way in American higher education,” she said. “I hope some of you will be its inventors and hope that our work lays a foundation for your success in that endeavor.”
Bensimon noted that President Barack Obama wants to raise the nation’s college graduation rate to 60 percent by 2020, which would translate into 8 million additional graduates. For California, that means the state needs to produce 1.5 million more degrees. She said that cannot be accomplished without Latinos, the largest-growing demographic.
Bensimon outlined the Center for Urban Education’s Equity Scorecard process, which integrates data analysis, institutional inquiry and problem solving into a comprehensive assessment process in which data and institutional practices are addressed by a team of campus practitioners.
Although millions of dollars are being pumped into changing the data structures, Bensimon said, “We don’t believe that data alone can do it. We need people to get their hands dirty with the data.”
About 40 individuals from the Central Coast, Central Valley, Inland Empire, and Greater Los Angeles and Orange County areas attended the workshop funded through the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. Representatives came from the California State University Office of the Chancellor; California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo; California State University, Bakersfield; California State University, Dominguez Hills; Allan Hancock College, Bakersfield College, California State University, Fullerton; University of California, Riverside; California State University, Long Beach; California State University, Los Angeles; Pasadena City College; Cerritos College; East Los Angeles College; El Camino College; Los Angeles Valley College and the Carnegie Corporation of New York.
Participants at the workshop had an opportunity to try out the Center for Urban Education’s interactive Benchmarking Equity and Student Success Tool on laptops at the Davidson Conference Center. The tool allows practitioners to recognize where and when students struggle or are lost as they progress through their institution, as well as prioritize intervention points that could be best leveraged to improve outcomes.
For many of the participants, the all-day workshop was an opportunity to network and share experiences and perceptions of the racial-ethnic climate of STEM classrooms in the community colleges and on California State University campuses.
The discussion at one table revolved around the importance of cultural competency. Desdemona Cardoza, professor of psychology at Cal State Los Angeles and consultant for the California State University Office of the Chancellor, said instructors often interact with students who come from backgrounds that may not have a level of sophistication possessed by peers. These faculty members need to be more understanding of students’ circumstances.
“You don’t have to be a Latina, but you need to at least be sensitive and understand the issues for some students who attend Cal State L.A.,” Cardoza said. “It’s really an issue of being open to who the students are.”