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Advancing Equity in STEM through Engagement

Photo Credit: Georgia State University

Photo Credit: Georgia State University

How do we best advance equity in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math)?

While we’ve made strides increasing the number of minority and females entering and succeeding in STEM fields, we have so much more to do. For example, the National Academy of Science studies chart a lack of STEM proficiency in elementary school—gaps that widen along the education pipeline, and are more acute among historically underrepresented groups that often live in underserved communities.

Advancing STEM and delivering equity go hand-in-hand. In their January, 2015 NSF-supported white paper, “Realizing STEM Equity and Diversity through Higher Education-Community Engagement,” Ira Harkavy, Nancy Cantor and Myra Burnett offer an approach to do just that. While we invite you to read the paper in its entirety, we’ve provided a quick summary of the principles on which their approach is grounded, and the recommendations they provide to advance this ideal.

Principles for tying STEM, engagement and equity

  1. Inclusion is required to solve complex societal challenges.

Photo Credit: California State University, Dominguez Hills

Photo Credit: California State University, Dominguez Hills

  1. Through inclusion, science and society improve.

  2. Achieving inclusion and advancing science and society can effectively be accomplished in higher education works in deep partnership with the community to solve local problems that also articulate globally.

  3. Across the globe, communities face challenges to knowledge generation, STEM equity and social cohesion.  No one society or one institution can solve these. A global approach is required.

Recommendations for advancing engagement as a strategy for STEM equity

The white paper summarized the recommendations from two global workshops to advance this premise (pp 22-30):

  1. Reconceptualize the STEM challenge from increasing diversity to “Realizing the STEM Imperative through Higher Education-Community Engagement.” (p. 22)

  2. Develop common principles around interdependence, learning and the benefits of higher education-community engagement that help drive change and create mutual benefits for university and community.

  3. Incent collaboration, including recognition.

  4. Cradle to career networks and other efforts such as Harlem Children’s zone that develop human resources are essential tools to creating the STEM workforce

  5. Cross sector partnerships that include industry, government, education and community partnerships are the ecosystem that enables inclusion and equity and should be intentionally established.

  6. Reimagine the ecosystem to include both higher education and the community to advance social cohesion, equity, diversity and inclusion.

  7. Encourage collaboration over competition as key to innovation and inclusion.

What this approach means for research

Photo Credit: University of Louisville

Photo Credit: University of Louisville

Working in this new ecosystem requires universities take a different approach to knowledge development.  Here are the core components of what that change might look like.

  1. Knowledge should be developed cooperatively across generations, disciplines and traditional boundaries.

  2. Collaborative research will need new forms of evaluation.

  3. Long-term engagement oriented around problem-solving creates its own sustainability.

  4. Researchers can assess the utility of their ideas, allowing society to solve problems more quickly.

  5. Engaged scholarship uncovers surprising insights, advancing the work of academics while supporting the needs of the community.

  6. Engaged scholarship is the foundation of deep higher education-community partnership.

  7. Engagement pushes the frontiers of science, leading to better science.

  8. To enable this all to happen, research deliverables should be redefined to include 1) scholarship; 2) technology transfer; and 3) direct impact on the participants (e.g. community).

What are some effective ways you are aware to mutually advance STEM and equity?


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