According to a recent study, Blacks are significantly underrepresented in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) but several schools in DeKalb are trying to change that.
The study, released by Georgetown University, used recent census data to calculate the economic value of college majors and illustrates how important the choice of a major is to Blacks’ median earnings, as well as how they continue to be segregated by race in their choice of a major. It also states that only 5 percent of college-level Blacks are engineering majors.
For Kim Gocke, STEM education should be more focused on making sure students are ready to join the workforce rather than go to Harvard.
Gocke is president of the Cross Keys Foundation, a non-profit organization that serves students and families in the Cross Keys High School attendance zone. He said he recently drove through a McDonald’s and saw a Cross Keys valedictorian working at the drive-through window.
“He was accepted to MIT and he’s at Georgia Tech but as he was giving me my combo meal my thought was, if he was coming through the schools in my area, how much more he could do now?” Gocke said.
Gocke said that in today’s fast-paced world, the traditional path of whether a student is going to college no longer applies.
“The new workplace demands that you be able to do both [work or go to college] out of high school,” he said.
Christie Schmitt, who has been teaching engineering at Arabia Mountain High School since it opened three years ago, said the DeKalb school is the only one in Georgia with four engineering teachers.
Schmitt, who was at Arabia Mountain at 6:45 a.m. to set up for the VEX Robotics Qualifier on Oct. 29, said many of the kids packed into the crowded gymnasium that morning would enroll in college engineering programs.
“These kids here are getting a huge jumpstart toward college and career pathways,” Schmitt said. “These kids are all looking at engineering schools and it will be interesting to see what they’re doing four years from now.”
In addition to Arabia Mountain, there were students from Dunwoody, Columbia, Chamblee, Clarkston and McNair high schools at the event.
Patrick Gunter, a technology and engineering teacher at Cross Keys, watched several girls using what looked like a video game joystick to control a robot nearby, pick up several red balls and place them in a container. The girls were competing against another team to see which could collect the most balls before the clock ran out. So far, they were undefeated.
This year, in addition to competing in various robotics competitions, Gunter’s students will be partnering with students from Georgia Tech to build a solar-powered car to enter in a cross-country race.
“We’re racing in July but we’ll share some of these parts, worth probably several hundred thousand dollars,” Gunter said.
Cross Keys has a high percentage of Black and Hispanic students, and Gunter said it is important for schools with minorities or under-represented groups to be involved in events like the VEX tournament or the solar-car race.
“It builds up their self confidence. Sometimes, it’s kind of hard to get them to believe in themselves,” Gunter said. “But just like this, they know they can come to something like this and they can win.”
Andrew White, a senior at Arabia Mountain, said he first got involved with the STEM field when he came to the school as a sophomore. He is now the president of the Georgia Technology Student Association, an organization designed to prepare students to be successful leaders in a technological society.
White said when he first came to the school he was unsure what career he wanted to pursue or study in college, but his engineering instructors made him aware of the opportunities available.
“We’re learning the engineering design process, we’re learning about innovations and how to use technology and how to apply it to real world situations. This is hands-on experience you just can’t get anywhere else besides being involved in VEX Robotics and TSA,” White said.
White plans to study engineering in college and said his involvement with STEM in school, the county and other state-wide organizations has prepared him to pursue a career in engineering.
“For us, as a predominantly African-American school in a predominantly African-American county, this is something that can not only grow African-American involvement in STEM education and careers, it can also prepare us for what we’re going to face when we get into the real world,” White said.