There’s little argument that the education future is built around STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math); however, a recent study revealed 38 percent of students who start with a STEM major do not graduate with one.
One school hoping to change that trend is Florida International University (FIU), which is increasing STEM awareness for all students, especially minorities.
Florida International University Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering Professor and Chair Dr. Shekhar Bhansali told VOXXI, “We’re in an era and an age where you can’t do without STEM. Not just FIU but for everybody, STEM is important and it’s going to get more and more important.
“It doesn’t matter what you do. Everything we do has STEM support behind it. It’s not going away.”
FIU paves the way for Latino tech entrepreneurs
The Miami-based FIU is currently mounting an effort to establish a new generation of tech entrepreneurs, especially among Latino students where there currently exists a considerable gap for STEM education.
The National Science Foundation shows that less than 13 percent of underrepresented minorities are earning degrees in physical sciences and engineering, compared to 18.6 percent of total undergraduate degrees.
That’s why the Florida Georgia Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (FGLSAMP) has created a Bridge to the Doctorate site at FIU, to increase the number of graduates who not only obtain STEM doctoral degrees, but also successfully transition them into post-graduate careers in industry, government or academia.
“What the program does is every year it gives an alliance one cohort of up to 19 students,” Bhansali said. “The idea is you recruit students who qualify to be a part of the school who also happen to be minority students. These students who just came out of a bachelor’s degree are funded for the first two years, with the goal to take them up to end of doctorate degree.”
The reason for the program is basically there are plenty of hurdles facing the STEM student issue.Oftentimes the biggest of which involves students not fully understanding the benefits or opportunities of a PhD.
Also tied to this issue is the fact some students believe a PhD is only beneficial if they are pre-med or pre-law.
“Very few realize you can have an equally good quality of life doing things you like and not in medicine or law,” Bhansali said. “A lot of it has to do with awareness.”
Another hurdle that speaks directly to the Latino community is responsibility. Bhansali said many students with bachelor’s degrees are faced with the dilemma of taking care of their family versus pursuing higher education.
“These are hard choices, so we spend a lot of time counseling people,” Bhansali said. “The first thing we did in [Bridge to the Doctorate] is have a stipend of about $30,000 a year. It’s not like a fulltime job, but it’s also not bare bones either. So it’s like a halfway compromise that you can at least have a life and works towards a degree.”
The stipend is also attracting students who were in the workforce but due to a lack of credentials experienced a glass ceiling.
“What students often don’t realize is with a PhD your life changes,” Bhansali said. “Your starting salary goes from $50,000 to $120,000. It completely transforms the career and the influence you have with people and organizations. That’s what we’re trying to articulate and excite students on is the possibility just beyond them just getting a degree.
“The impact is far more than a student just getting another degree. An incredible transformation starts here.”