Saturday, November 1, 2014

STEM: The Positives and the Negatives

If you’re still catching up with recent Chronicle issues, you might have missed Stacey Patton’s Oct. 27 article entitled “Black Man in the Lab.” 
Patton reviews some on-going questions, pointing out that two decades of affirmative action and diversity initiatives still haven’t rendered these questions obsolete:
  • Why do black males underperform in grade-school and high-school math and science classrooms?
  • Why do so few pursue STEM degrees?
  • Of those who enter college with the intention to major in STEM fields, why do so many switch to other disciplines?
  • And among those who persist and graduate with science majors, why do so few proceed to Ph.D. programs?
Patton acknowledges a number of reasons:  “Among the factors are academic and cultural isolation, the difficulty of performing in the face of negative stereotypes and low expectations among faculty members, a lack of mentors of color and friendship networks, concerns about financial debt, inadequate advising and emotional support during times of stress, and lack of exposure to hands-on research.”
One interesting point made in this article was that the literature is only filled with the negative data and the negative factors, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.  Perhaps, Patton suggests, we should “stop fixating on negative data and start telling the stories of black success.”
Here at Lincoln, where STEM and STEM students are pointed to with pride, what success stories can we offer?  Maybe we can use this week’s blog to brag a little, and then share the results with our students and our colleagues at other institutions? What are we doing right?


  1. It depends on the objective as well as the audience. If you do not know what the problems are, you cannot solve them. If you assume that the picture is rosy, or you are perfect and doing everything right and nothing wrong, or focus on mainly success stories, you may end up with heartbreak and failure. So why not tell the truth -- the whole truth, including the successes and failures, what we are doing right as well as wrong?

    Safro Kwame

    1. Agreed. In fact, I think the point of the article is that we aren't telling the whole truth because we're so concerned with pointing out the problems that are causing failure. There is no dearth of research about the problems, the causes, the negative conditions, the unequal numbers, the efforts that try and fail to bring equality. Patton was suggesting that people learn when they are motivated to follow success, hence the urging that we not forget to tell the success side of the story.

  2. As an African American who immigrated to this country a copuple of decades ago, I share the concern of the author of this article. When I was young, my dream was just to be a school teacher, make some money and support my parensts and siblings. I thought that way because I saw many teachers in my town with no collge degree doing exactly what I wished to do. However, as I reached high school, my dream of limiting myself to just elementary school teacher changed after I met a medical doctor who came from abroad to visit relatives in the town where I was born and raised. My parents knew his parents who were very poor and did not even have anything to eat in the house. I was told that this gentleman was selling firewood and also worked as a day laborer to support his parents. Then, a Catholic priest from Holland who was the head of the Catholic church in the town encouraged the young boy to stay in school where he completed high school and then University. Then, he won scholarship to study medicine abroad. He was this gentleman who openned my eyes and helped me to think beyond high school education. In short, I don't believe the blame game, specially on race and poverty, for not becoming a successful person in any field of study including science. In this country, there are many opportunities for minorities, including blacks. The problem is most of our youngmen and women of color afraid to face the challenges and they give up easily. I strongly believe that like any Asian or caucasian persons, black men also have a working brain. There are many people of color we all know in this country in the field of science and technology and they can be good role models for all people of color. After all, role models do not come to the classroom or home to do the school work. I still believe that there are plenty of opportunities, specially for people of color to be chemists, physists, or in general scientists as lon as they stay focused and not distructed by bumps and challenged on the road to success.

  3. What a great story, Dr. Tucho, and a perfect explanation of the power of personal role models. And you quite rightly point out that just having the role model isn't enough; a person needs to believe, work hard, stay focused, and be resilient in the face of obstacles. (Of course all of those things are easier said than done--guess that's the topic of another blog!)