By Amanda Merck
The science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) workforce is no more diverse than it was 20 years ago.
In fact, less than 2% of the STEM workforce is Latino youth, although they make up about 20% of the population, according to a factsheet by the U.S. Department of Education.
Vacant STEM jobs and gaps in this growing career field mean gaps in income, health, and quality of life.
It also means Americans lag behind in:
- advancing alternative energy source
- curing diseases
- predicting natural disasters
- preventing cybercrime
- protecting our citizens
- securing sustainable food supply
In order to promote STEM careers among Latino youth, we need to improve STEM programming beginning as early as preschool, promote STEM programs for Latinos, and boost high school graduation and college attendance.
Latinos on Fast Track (LOFT)
In 2012, the U.S. Army and the Hispanic Heritage Foundation partnered to provide free leadership and workforce development training to address the shortage of highly skilled, highly trained professionals in STEM fields.
The partnership builds on the Hispanic Heritage Foundation’s Latinos on Fast Track (LOFT) program, which connects Latino students with guidance and career opportunities, to highlight opportunities in STEM fields for high school students and their families and introduces them to Army’s core leadership principles.
The program, LOFT STEM Leadership Symposiums, has offered 8-10 events annually at college campuses across the country.
In 2017, they will host eight LOFT STEM Leadership Symposiums, serving over 100,000 high school students since the partnership began.
Watch a video of Antonio Tijerino, the president and CEO of the Hispanic Heritage Foundation, discuss the importance of STEM fields within the U.S. Army.
LOFT Latina Turns Full-Time Jr. Data Scientist
Jacqueline Moreno attended a LOFT event in 2014 as she began transitioning from a career in public service to one in technology.
She was soon offered a full-time position with the company was was interning with.
She continues to attend LOFT events and network with Hispanic Heritage Foundation professionals to attend relevant conferences.
“Networking with other LOFT members in person has led to my excitement in joining more LOFT tracks – including that for Innovation & Technology, Engineering, Public Service, and another for Latinas – to keep in touch,” Moreno said.
Promote STEM Early and Consistently
STEM jobs are expected to grow 13% between 2017 and 2027, while non-STEM jobs will only grow 9%, but only 16% of high school seniors are proficient in math.
Waiting for high school or even kindergarten is too late, because 90% of the brain development occurs before age 5.
Introducing children to pre-literacy and STEM activities early can improve school and college readiness, as well as lifelong health and wellbeing.
Early educators and school teachers can make a lasting difference for Latinos by promoting STEM and connecting Latinos to workforce development resources, like LOFT.
“Growing up in a Hispanic household taught me perseverance through tough obstacles,” said Jackson Antonio Alexander Garcia, an engineering major at the University of Texas at San Antonio, according to one source. “That’s a trademark of our community. The path to a career in engineering wasn’t always easy, but focusing on my goals and never having quitting as an option got me to where I am, but there’s more work to do.”