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Help Wanted: Seeking Latino students to pursue math and science fields

Conferences addresses lack of Latinos in STEM careers


WASHINGTON - April 01, 2010 -

The National Education Association is accelerating the dialogue to engage and increase the number of Latino K-16 and graduate students in the field of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). NEA Vice President Lily Eskelsen joined leading experts today at the “Nuestro Futuro 2010 Latino Education Conference on STEM” to promote best practices to attract more Latino talent into STEM fields.

The conference was hosted by Latino Magazine. NEA was a conference sponsor.

“We must recalculate our existing strategies and find new ways to encourage, engage and excite Latino students to pursue math and science fields,” said NEA Vice President Lily Eskelsen.  “America cannot continue to prosper without improvements in the educational and economic status of Latinos. This is one of the compelling reasons why we are doing everything we can to encourage Latino students to pursue careers in STEM fields.”

Experts in the STEM field often paint a dreary picture of America losing its competitive edge if little is done to increase the number of students interested in pursuing a STEM-based education and career.

Statistics indicate that the number of math and science based careers is outpacing the number of students graduating from related fields. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, jobs in STEM fields will grow approximately 22 percent from 2004 to 2014, requiring nearly two million new STEM professionals by 2010 to fill the void left by retiring Baby Boomers.

The numbers become more dismal when the data shifts to Latinos in STEM careers:

  • The U.S. Census Bureau reports that 39 percent of the population under the age of 18 is a racial or ethnic minority. However, in 2000, only 3.4 percent of the science and engineering jobs were held by Latinos.
  • Today, five percent of the American workforce is employed in STEM-related jobs, yet only two percent of Latinos are employed in these occupations.

The panel discussion, moderated by Eskelsen, centered on recruitment and retention of girls and women of color in STEM throughout the K-20 pathway. Furthermore, panelists discussed ways to create equity in mathematics for all students, in particular Latinos and other underserved populations, and best practices for English Language Learners (ELL) in math and science instruction.

About half of the 10 million Latino students are English Language Learners. In many cases, a lack of proficiency in English has equaled a lack of confidence in other subjects, like math and science. However, the role of professional development is an even more critical piece for engaging Latino students.

Panelist Ricardo Rincón, an NEA member who teaches elementary fifth grade in Las Cruces, N.M, said “professional development that addresses cultural backgrounds fosters a learning environment where students feel comfortable taking risks—giving every newcomer an opportunity to learn.”

To help educators meet the needs of ELL students, NEA provides its members with professional development, such as the ELL teacher training cadre, which brings together research and classroom best practices that benefits K-12 students and piques student interest in math and science. The goal is to offer all students the opportunity to learn challenging mathematics from a highly effective teacher who will link to the background, needs, and cultures of all learners.

“Math and science careers are where the job sector is moving toward,” said Eskelsen. “We have a real opportunity to prepare the fastest growing segment of the U.S. population and create the next generation of scientific talent—and fill the math and science shortage.”

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The National Education Association is the nation's largest professional employee organization, representing 3.2 million elementary and secondary teachers, higher education faculty, education support professionals, school administrators, retired educators and students preparing to become teachers.

CONTACT: Brenda Alvarez  (202) 822-7823; balvarez@nea.org