Experts: Encourage kids to enter math, science fields

Hearing spotlights 'STEM' education

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Experts trying to get more girls and minorities to study science, technology, engineering and math will testify today that the state should support programs to better prepare Pennsylvania students -- especially urban youth -- to pursue careers in the fields known collectively as STEM.

Among those scheduled to speak at a public hearing this afternoon before the state House Education Committee at Duquesne University are officials from business, education and community nonprofits, who all have connections to the ongoing effort to fill more STEM jobs with women and minorities.

C. Dianne Colbert, retired director of a program at the University of Pittsburgh that provides tutoring and college prep for high school students entering those kind of professions, convened the hearing after attending a similar one last year in Philadelphia organized by the Urban Stem Strategy Group in that city.

"We hope the state's legislative education committee will focus on legislative strategies for urban STEM students and families," said Ms. Colbert.

Among the proposals she supports is funding for a statewide project called Mathematics, Engineering and Science Achievement that is already in place in eight states and which includes programs outside of school encouraging students' involvement in science and technology subject areas.

Ms. Colbert plans to tell state officials at today's hearing that minorities in grades four through 11 scored worse on the state's standardized science tests last year than other students and that new policies and programming could help "break down structural barriers to diverse STEM participation."

State funding could support programs for underserved communities that would be conducted in-school, after-school, on Saturdays and at summer academies, she said.

In a survey of female and minority chemists and chemical engineers released last month by Bayer Corp., 40 percent of those surveyed said they had been discouraged at some point in their education from pursuing their professions. Those surveyed also said U.S. schools did a poor job of engaging girls and minorities in science.

"Pennsylvania needs everybody pushing toward a unified set of strategies," said Elizabeth Nilsen, coordinator of the Southwest Pennsylvania STEM Network. She is scheduled to testify today.

The network is one of five regional groups in the state funded by the National Governors Association to coordinate activities in industry, secondary and higher education, and community organizations. "We look at the STEM grads the secondary institutions are producing and what jobs are available for them," said Ms. Nilsen.

The network's long-term goals include not just preparing girls and minorities for careers but making sure teachers are more effective in promoting the subject areas and "helping the public understand STEM is an important issue for regional and economic vitality," she said.


Joyce Gannon: jgannon@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1580.


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