How to Solve Tech’s Diversity Problem? Start With Schools

By | February 10, 2014

Tamara Battle had always been interested in math and science, and was good at it, too. So when she entered Borough of Manhattan Community College in 1992, she tested well enough to be placed into calculus-based physics. On the first day of class, she realized two things: she was the only black woman in the room, and she had no idea what the professor was talking about.

“It was like, ‘ok, everyone knows what a vector is, right?'” Battle recalled. “I looked around, way out of my league, and realized, ‘Wow, this is going to be a challenge.'”

It’s not that Battle didn’t have the smarts to keep up. It’s that she’d never even taken calculus. She’d also never met a scientist or science teacher who looked like her. Instead of encouraging her to pursue math and tech, Battle’s guidance counselor had informed her she probably wouldn’t graduate from her Brooklyn high school.

Even 20 years later, Battle’s situation isn’t unique. A new analysis of College Board data from Georgia Tech finds that among 30,000 high school students who took the Advanced Placement Computer Science exam in 2013, Hispanic and African-American students accounted for only 8 and 3 percent of test takers, respectively. Among 2013 AP Calculus test takers, only 5.5 percent were black and 13 percent were Hispanic, well below their share of the population. This lack of early engagement in STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) has a domino effect: In 2011, for example, underrepresented minorities earned 9,736, or 12.5 percent, of all engineering bachelor’s degrees, even though they’re nearly 30 percent of the population. Logically, those figures affect who will land some of the highest-paying, most readily available jobs of the future. (NBC Chattanooga)

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