There is no doubt that a career in the STEM fields is a promising one. The Bureau of Labor Statistics states that employment in this field will rise by 9 million by 2022. Also on the rise is the number of foreign-born and immigrant workers in the STEM field.
According to the National Science Foundation, “an estimated 5.2 million, or 18 percent, of the country’s 29 million scientists and engineers were immigrants in 2013.” Another study done by the National Center for Education Statistics explained that the percentage of foreign-born students who entered the STEM field was 34 percent in 2009. This was significantly higher than the amount of U.S. born students, which was 22 percent.
However, there is still inequality faced in the STEM fields by underrepresented groups. The Cal Poly San Luis Obispo campus climate survey found that 32 percent of students faced exclusionary, offensive or hostile conduct based on their major field of study.
This type of conduct is often referred to by these students as “majorism,” or the belief that certain colleges or fields within them are superior to others. Cal Poly’s Advancing Cultural Change (ACC) program conducts research with case studies, using information from people with firsthand experience with majorism to understand and improve the conditions on campus.
Dr. Coleen Carrigan, Principle Investigator for ACC, focuses her work on the cultural element in the STEM fields. “STEM is a highly male dominated field, and the white masculinity means that those with that identity are seen as competent, while those without are seen as incompetent,” Carrigan says.
There are several intersecting identities that contribute to the lack of diversity in the STEM, including race, gender, disabilities, sexual orientation and socioeconomic status. Carrigan compares the experiences of these underrepresented groups to “swimming against the current” due to the fact that they are forced to work harder than the majority group.
This poses a problem for underrepresented groups, Carrigan says. “Their identity becomes a mark of competency, not their skill.”
Being able to close the gap in STEM amongst these minority groups is essential. Dr. Zahra Alghoul, a professor in the Cal Poly chemistry department, touches on the importance of accepting others’ cultures and identities. On a work visa from Lebanon, Alghoul shares her story and experience of pursuing an education and career in STEM and explains what she has learned from living in the United States.