Washington Update

STEM Opportunities Act Addresses Scientific Workforce Diversity

By: Teresa Ramírez
Thursday, May 23, 2019

On May 7, House Science, Space, and Technology Committee Chair Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) and ranking member Rep. Frank Lucas (R-OK) introduced H.R. 2528- STEM Opportunities Act of 2019. The bill aims to ensure full representation of women, minorities, and underrepresented groups in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) programs in federal science agencies and educational institutions receiving federal research funds.

To draw attention to the legislation, Representatives Johnson and Lucas organized a hearing, “Achieving the Promise of a Diverse STEM Workforce,” featuring testimony from expert witnesses who highlighted programs intended to help women and underrepresented minorities overcome barriers to pursuing STEM careers.

Shirley Malcom, PhD, Senior Advisor and Director of STEM Equity Achievement (SEA) Change at the American Association for the Advancement of Science, described how the program provides diversity, equity, and inclusion opportunities in STEM at the college and university level. Dr. Malcom also mentioned the newly formed Societies Consortium on Sexual Harassment in STEMM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and medicine), composed of 53 societies including FASEB. The consortium will provide research and evidence-based resources and guidance to address sexual harassment experienced by scientists within the fields they represent.

An overview of “Minority Serving Institutions, America’s Underutilized Resource for Strengthening the STEM Workforce,” a report recently released by the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM), was provided by Lorelle Espinosa, PhD, Vice President for Research at the American Council on Education. She noted that minority-serving institutions enroll a large portion of students of color, many of whom are first-generation, and could be a crucial pipeline in establishing the U.S. as a STEM workforce leader.

Barbara Whye, Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer and Vice President of Human Resources at Intel, discussed mobile teaching through its Tech Learning Lab, a custom-built bus equipped with virtual reality demo stations. Rural communities benefit from hands-on workshops offered through the mobile lab. An institutional perspective was offered by James Moore, PhD, Vice Provost for Diversity and Inclusion and Chief Diversity Officer at Ohio State University (OSU). He described OSU’s Young Scholars Program that offers mentoring, academic support, and STEM opportunities to students from Ohio’s nine largest urban school districts, focusing on academically talented students who are first-generation and have significant financial need.

The final witness was Mae Jemison, MD, chair of an ongoing NASEM study charged with developing recommendations to address barriers women face in STEM fields and ways to help institutions understand how to overcome them. Dr. Jemison commented that skilled technicians make up most of the technology workforce, so offering vocational opportunities at the high school and community college level are important.

During a period of questions following the testimony, witnesses were asked to address ways Congress could help implement new policies to improve the retention of women in STEM and assure safe workplaces. Committee members also sought examples of how programs administered by federal science agencies support the increased participation of women and underrepresented individuals in STEM.

Panelists mentioned that apprenticeships, internships, and co-ops are important for providing relevant work experience and guidance for those pursuing a STEM education. The importance of providing more need-based scholarships for individuals from low-income families was also noted.

An archived video of the hearing can be viewed here.