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United States today. It is imperative that we train our students in STEM fields so that they are prepared to become part of a globally competitive, future genera- tion workforce. Currently, students do not necessarily have the STEM skills that employers need. We need to focus on building a STEM career pipeline for Hispanic students. We need to equip students with real-world skills, create hands-on learning environments and provide our classrooms with the most up to date information technology. We need to strengthen STEM teacher train- ing and recruitment and improve the quality of instruction materials available to our teachers.


But we have to start early. Elementary and middle school are important times in a student’s career to be inspired by STEM possibilities. We need to cre- ate STEM-related experiences that are relevant and exciting to Hispanic children. I am also a strong supporter of after-school and other out-of-school programs that provide opportunities for mentoring and opportunities for students to explore STEM interests in a safe and positive environment beyond the traditional classroom.


HE&IT: What are the prospects for fast- er progress on that, given the current focus on deficit and spending reduction across all levels of government? Luján: Although times are tough right now and Congress needs to tighten its belt, we cannot sacrifice investments in innovation, education, and job creation. Spending cuts shouldn’t come at the expense of educating our children, and we cannot afford to cut back on investments in STEM, especially now. During difficult times, strategic invest- ments are particularly important to ensure our county remains competitive not just now, but a generation from now. According to the National Cen- ter for Education Statistics, U.S. high school seniors recently tested below the international average for 21 countries in mathematics and science. I can say that many members of Congress on both sides of the aisle recognize the urgency


www.hispanicengineer.com


“We need to make renewable energy cost- competitive with tradi- tional sources of energy, and we are getting closer to this every day.” —Rep. Ben Ray Luján


of this problem, and that we can still work hard to address it. We also need to continue to hear from our communities and STEM advocates to ensure that this issue stays at the forefront of the federal policy debate.


In Congress I am working to move for- ward education policy that will prepare our students to become professionals in a high-tech economy. I recently intro- duced the STEM Support for Teachers in Education and Mentoring (STEM) Act, which includes a package of initiatives designed to improve student interest and performance in STEM skills that are critical to future economic growth and competitiveness. My bill will help teach- ers and schools better engage students in STEM fields, provide resources to teachers for STEM professional devel- opment, and facilitate collaboration among the business and education communities in order to better identify STEM skills the workforce needs to have.


HE&IT: How much of this is something that can be addressed by, say, better government funding for education and how much is this simply a ques- tion of stoking interest in these fields among young people? Luján: We need to do both. Continued investment in STEM education is criti- cal to ensuring that Hispanic students become prepared for high-skilled, good-paying jobs, but we must also get students engaged in these subject areas by appealing to their interests.


For example, minorities continue to sign up for Twitter at higher rates than the general population. According to a recent survey from the Pew Research Center, mi- nority Web users are more than twice as likely to be active on the micro-blogging service than white web users. Nineteen percent of Hispanics are on Twitter, as opposed to 9 percent of whites. In ad- dition, recent surveys have shown that Hispanics rely on their mobile phones as their primary connection to the Web at a far greater rate than the general popula- tion. Our community is on the forefront in terms of adopting the latest digital communications tools. We need to find ways to integrate this into the classroom. Technology and STEM go hand-in-hand, and we can use technology to engage Hispanic students.


HE&IT: How have Hispanic and other minority STEM professionals been af- fected by the economic downturn? Luján: Hispanics and other minorities have been hit harder by the recession. Nationally, the employment rate is at 9.2 percent, but among Hispanics it is up to 11.6 percent. Teachers are being laid off across the country as states struggle with budget cuts. Funding for science research continues to be attacked at the federal level. The fact is that Hispanics are experiencing higher unemployment rates than other groups, which is all the more reason that we must invest in innovation and education so they will have the skills they need for the jobs of tomorrow.


HE&IT: Do you get the sense that they have felt a disproportionate impact? Luján: In addition to the higher unem- ployment rate, Hispanics have suffered from a large achievement gap in STEM. A National Academy of Sciences report makes clear that we must continue our efforts to increase minority participation in STEM. In 2007, underrepresented mi- norities comprised 33 percent of the U.S. college age population, and 26 percent of undergraduate enrollment, yet only 17 percent of those were earning science and engineering bachelor’s degrees.


HISPANIC ENGINEER & Information Technology | 2011 7


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