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41st anniversary of moon landing underscores dismal future of Latinos in STEM careers

LatinaLista — Today is the 41st anniversary of NASA’s Apollo 11 moon landing, which took place July 20, 1969.


Surprisingly, there’s barely been a mention of this historic anniversary in the media or the blogosphere.

Maybe it’s because it’s not a “round number” anniversary, like 40th or 45th, or maybe it’s because morale is pretty low these days given the uncertain future of the space agency.

Whatever the reason, it should be realized that space exploration is still very relevant and will always exist in some form. At the same time, it’s going to still need qualified engineers, scientists and technology professionals to program the software that will propel those rockets, satellites and space ships beyond what is known as LEO — lower earth orbit.

While a respectable number of Latinos and Latinas have been a part of the space program, the sad truth is that when it comes to the professions that will be needed to keep space exploration a viable mission for the nation, Latinos and Latinas are as rare as moon rocks.

The careers most closely associated with the space program — and certainly not limited to it — are fields such as science, technology, engineering and mathematics — otherwise known as STEM careers.

The National Education Association sponsored a conference in April called “Nuestro Futuro 2010 Latino Education Conference on STEM.”

“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.”

Of all the careers, the STEM fields will experience one of the highest turnover rates as it’s projected that half of all engineers in the United States will retire with the “baby boom” generation (U.S. Congress, 2006).

To add to the pressure to fill these jobs, it’s been discovered that “the flow of international students, scientists, and engineers to the U.S. has decreased as other countries recognize the economic importance of a technical workforce and implement policies that entice their citizens to remain (National Science and Technology Council, 2000).”

Seeing that Latinos are on course to being the largest ethnic group in the nation, the stats reflecting the number of Latinos and Latinas in STEM careers is more than disappointing — it’s disgraceful.

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 overriding question is why?

The obvious answer is that those young Latinos and Latinas who have an interest and an affinity in any of the careers considered STEM fields are detouring away from them in one of two places — school or home.

In the Latino culture, there is unfortunately not a great understanding or appreciation of these fields. In turn, not a lot of support in some families of a child who exhibits a talent for science or math.

And, unfortunately, schools still suffer from teachers and counselors who have in-grown biases against what some students can accomplish.

For more Latinos and Latinas to choose STEM careers, a basic message to both educators and families must include that each environment needs to respect the talent/interest that is within those students, and in turn, those students will have the necessary confidence to pursue those fields — and help take this world on a new fantastic journey deeper into space.


(Editor’s note: Corrected the wrong anniversary date. Thank you readers!)

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