Polito, Kennedy visit UMass Boston for STEM lecture series
The Massachusetts STEM Advisory Council and about 75 stakeholders from Massachusetts schools, academies, nonprofits, governmental agencies, and tech companies convened at the Integrated Sciences Complex at UMass Boston on Thursday for a meeting, film screening, and panel discussion about solutions to inspire more young women and minorities to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and math.
Among the visitors were council co-chairs Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito, Congressman Joseph P. Kennedy III, and Jeffrey Leiden, the chairman, president, and CEO of Vertex Pharmaceuticals. Secretary of Education Jim Peyser also participated in the STEM Advisory Council Lecture Series, which centered on a screening of the documentary Code: Debugging the Gender Gap.
“I love being on this campus and I love being in this building, because this building represents the future,” Polito said. “This is where we’re heading, and the fact that you have a building like this that integrates so many disciplines of science-related opportunities for the students that come through here is really where we need to be.”
The council, which was commissioned through an executive order signed by Governor Deval Patrick in 2009, aims to increase planning and programming around STEM education through collaboration between state offices and departments.
Chancellor J. Keith Motley welcomed attendees by highlighting UMass Boston’s College of Science and Mathematics, which has a student population that is 44 percent women and 62 percent people of color—the most of any college at the university. He also highlighted female deans, directors, and professors who are conducting award-winning research and mentoring students in the areas of computer machinery, environmental science, climate change, and engineering, among others.
“As you can see, we at the University of Massachusetts Boston are acutely aware of the need to promote more women in STEM,” Motley said. “We have made it our mission to recruit more leadership that is representative of our entire population, and while we have certainly made some progress, we still have a long way to go.”
Congressman Kennedy highlighted legislation he filed to direct STEM dollars toward women, minorities, and low-income communities, which he said became part of the No Child Left Behind compromise several months ago.
Kennedy shared sobering U.S. statistics that reflect the lack of women, minority, and low-income students pursuing higher education in science, technology, engineering and math. He said:
Only one in six fourth graders from low-income families are proficient in science and math;
Hispanics and African Americans occupy a combined 13 percent of all STEM jobs;
Women, who make up half the workforce overall, occupy a quarter of STEM jobs;
In 2013, there were 11 states where not a single African American student took the AP Computer Science test, eight states were no Hispanics took the test, and three states where no women took the test.
“Expanding STEM education is not just essential to the future of our economy, or the competitiveness of our nation, it is simply the right thing to do,” he added.
The afternoon culminated with Robin Hauser Reynolds’s film Code: Debugging the Gender Gap, which raises awareness and questions about the lack of women and minorities in coding and software engineering. Since it debuted, it’s been screened in 16 countries, and soon will be screened in Iran, she said.