Supporting Black students as they embark on their STEM journeys

For UM-Dearborn, Assistant Professor DeLean Tolbert Smith offered her thoughts on how to help Black students who are just starting out in STEM:

Smith’s take on this topic has always struck us as fresh: “A deficit perspective of underrepresentation in STEM often leads scholars to focus and place blame on communities of color and the need for them to have the same resources as white communities,” Smith explained during a recent conversation. “No doubt, we should be striving to fix the inequalities related to capital. But what I’m interested in is looking at the ways that Black families are already acting as cultural assets, and identifying those practices and elevating them so more families can actively support young people who are showing interest in STEM subjects.”


But Smith says college recruitment of Black students during their senior years of high school, or programs aimed at supporting them once they get to campus, are destined to be inadequate for “getting engineering programs to look like America” if no one invested in a kid’s STEM interest back in middle school or earlier. “That’s the time we know that girls and boys are declaring to themselves or to their families that they have confidence or discomfort in math and science,” she says. And the challenge is we simply don’t have an adequate picture of what their early STEM lives really look like.

This is specifically about Black schoolchildren in the US but these ideas are transferrable anywhere. More foundational work needs to be done, more biases need to be addressed, and some systems will need to be broken and restarted with the right people to create new ones that won’t leave Black students behind.

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