40 Years and a Formula for STEM Equity

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Today, September 27, 2016, marks the 40-year anniversary of TAME’s work to strengthen female and minority participation in STEM careers. As we celebrate with all of you, we want to present you with some numbers: numbers that show how far we’ve come, and numbers that show how far we still have to go.

In 1978, Austin magazine provided a snapshot of the times with the article TAME Boosts Minority Students Into the Engineering FieldAlthough Hispanic, African-American, and Native Americans comprised 17% of the United State's total population, they represented less than 3% of the STEM workforce. Of all the civil engineers in the United States, 1.3% were female.

"Paradoxically, our country needs more engineers, but is not taking advantage of the engineering potential of its minority citizens... Texas industry and education have united to launch a unique state-wide attack on the problem. The unusual partnership is called Texas Alliance for Minorities in Engineering (TAME)." The full article was reprinted in that year's Annual Report.

Forty years on, how are we doing? About 6% of today's STEM workforce is Hispanic, 6% is African-American, and 25% is female. The percentage of female civil engineers has risen to 12.7%.

Have we made progress? Absolutely. Is it enough? Not even close. Workforce diversity benefits everyone: according to recent research, mixed gender teams achieve 40% more patents than all-male teams, while gender diversity at the management level results in a $42 million increase in the value of S&P 500 firms.

For STEM fields to reflect, and benefit from, the rich diversity of the inhabitants of the United States, we need to more than double the number of females and underrepresented minorities working in STEM.

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Winners in the 1988 Math and Science Competition hosted by TAME's Gulf Coast Chapter.

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Winners in the 2015 State Math and Science Competition hosted at Lockheed Martin Aeronautics.

How do we improve the numbers? By connecting our many bright young students to opportunities in STEM. The challenges identified in TAME’s 1977-78 Annual Report are still familiar today:

“Teresa… is a student at an Austin high school. Her aptitude in math has been noticed by her math teacher and her counselor, who have suggested she consider an engineering career. But… because neither she nor her family knows any engineers, she has no clear idea of what a career in engineering would mean to her. And she doesn’t think she can afford to go to college anyway.”

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Students explore hands-on exhibits in the Expo-Tex, TAME's earliest traveling science museum, in 1993.

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A student explores hands-on exhibits in Trailblazer II, one of TAME's traveling science museums, in 2014.

Mile by mile, day by day, TAME programs reach across the geographic, cultural, socioeconomic and digital divides that separate our young people from bright futures in STEM. Every year, we reach over 25,000 kids: kids in small border towns and in urban centers, kids who live 200 miles away from the nearest computer lab or right down the road from an aeronautics facility and who have never met an engineer. Every year, our Trailblazers travel over 20,000 miles to share the excitement of STEM with communities across Texas. Every year, our Divisional and State STEM Competitions bring thousands of students to corporate and academic campuses.

“I recall sitting for 12 hours on a school bus filled with a couple dozen students of differing ages, none of whom I knew. At the end of that journey, I had bonded with several students from other high schools…I was motivated and inspired by their drive towards success and contributing to their communities.... To date, my most cherished memories of TAME are not of the math questions that I solved correctly or the medals I won, but they are of the fun bus rides that brought us together.”  - Akwasi O., former TAME scholar, now a medical student and math tutor for 7th and 8th grade students

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TAME students explore hands-on science after school under the supervision of a chemistry teacher, circa 1990.

TAME's Presidio HS Club advanced to Nationals in Rocketry and presented their work to President Obama at the White House Science Fair in 2009. Copyright Getty Images.

TAME programs deliver. We reach kids early, we get them engaged in STEM, and we support them all the way into careers. For 40 years, TAME programs have helped students get places: from Baytown to the International Space Station, from Presidio to the White House, from class troublemaker to college-bound.

“What makes TAME special is that they reached out to us. I didn’t go looking for them. They came to us and they tried to get us involved. That was a big deal. Also, it was free to go to the competitions. A lot of kids wouldn’t have been able to afford to go to something like that, but it was free. TAME… helped us see that engineering and science are good fields to go into, they showed us that it’s attainable, and they showed us a way to get there.” - Rachel R., TAME scholar and biochemistry student

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TAME students participating in the Gulf Coast Chapter's Engineering Olympics, circa 1980.

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Students participating in the State Engineering Design Challenge at Lockheed Martin Aeronautics in 2009.

Connecting Texas students to STEM opportunities takes a lot more than miles. It takes the teachers, librarians, and community volunteers across Texas who share the excitement of STEM with students; it takes corporate partners, who give back to their communities and strengthen their workforce by supporting STEM education; it takes academic partners, who encourage us to innovate; and it takes generous donors, who keep us going. As we look back on the past 40 years, we want to give a heartfelt thank you to those who have been with us along the way.

With your help, we’ll improve the numbers. There’s a formula we’ve been working on for over 40 years, and it looks like this:

Inspiration * (Student STEM Skills + Support (Family + Educators + Community)) = Equity in STEM Workforce

Let’s solve this one together.

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The earliest photo in TAME's archives of the Expo-Tex, TAME's first traveling science museum, in 1987.

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Students visitingTrailblazer I, one of TAME's traveling science museums, at a summer camp in 2016.

By Jessie Temple and Lindsey Carmichael, September 27, 2016.

Inspiration * (STEM Skills + Support (Family + Educators + Community)) = Equity in STEM Workforce

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