In 2021, the diversity gap in STEM is striking. Although Hispanic people make up 17 percent of the American workforce, only 8 percent of employees in STEM fields are Hispanic. Meanwhile, Black people represent 11 percent of all employed adults in the U.S. but only 9 percent of all STEM workers. According to Pew Research Center report from this year, there has been no change in the percentage of Black workers in the STEM industry since 2016.
To help close the gap, Purdue University recently partnered with the U.S. Navy’s Office of Naval Research (ONR) and a consortium of minority-serving institutions — including Tuskegee University and the University of Puerto Rico — to address the low persistence and retention rates of minority students in these fields.
“We call this a quiet crisis,” Luciano Castillo, Purdue’s Kenninger Professor of Renewable Energy and Power Systems in Mechanical Engineering, said in a statement. “It’s not just a matter of trying to raise numbers. Minority students feel that they don’t have the tools to succeed in science and engineering careers. We want to give these students every available opportunity to overcome those barriers, to solve the big problems of tomorrow.”
The consortium’s proposed program, Blue Integrated Partnerships (BIP), has received a $2.8 million grant from ONR to recruit underrepresented students to join research projects that will help them advance in this field. “We’ve already seen success in events like the Latinx Trailblazers in Engineering and Black Trailblazers in Engineering,” Castillo said. “When minority students get this kind of focused attention on a specific goal, they thrive.”
Minority students in this program will also receive personal mentorship from leaders in the industry.
“We want this program to become a super-pipeline,” Castillo said. “K–12 students will learn what it takes to attend a STEM school like Purdue. Undergraduate students at minority-serving institutions learn how to conduct world-class research. Graduate students learn what it takes to become a transformational scientist and leader. This is how we change the story and bring true diversity to academia, which in turn will change the world.”