To STEM-finity And Beyond!

The next generation of our nation’s STEM leaders has arrived.

Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) students from middle school through college rolled up their sleeves and embraced with gusto all the 26th Annual Hispanic Engineer National Achievement Awards Corporation (HENAAC) Conference had to offer. Not even the allure of the Big Easy’s famed sugarcoated beignets could keep this crowd from their STEM pursuits.

By the year 2018, the United States will be in need of over eight million STEM professionals.  An anticipated lack of qualified STEM workers looms, threatening to disrupt any prediction for the nation’s economic growth.

Naysayers rightfully argue that without qualified STEM professionals, the United States, including the DoD, will lose its competitive advantage in the global struggle for creative and innovative talent and economic prowess. Many representatives across the DoD and other federal agencies underscore that the need for STEM professionals is a critical national security issue.

The Department of Defense Office of Diversity Management and Equal Opportunity (ODMEO) remains committed to its leadership in the development and retention of professionals across all fields – including STEM – from a diversity of backgrounds.

DoD’s engagement with organizations like Great Minds in STEM (GMiS), the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Society of American Indian Government Employees (SAIGE), and Asian Pacific Islander Association of Colleges and Universities (APIACU) continue to change the lives of young people who may not otherwise have or know about federal and military opportunities to succeed.

As an example of such engagement, the HENAAC Conference convenes some of the best and the brightest STEM students and professional leaders from the military services, academia, and private and public organizations such as Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and Chevron Corporation.

Orchestrated by the national nonprofit organization Great Minds in STEM, the HENAAC Conference provides networking and mentoring opportunities, learning programs, and resources for educators and students, particularly those from underserved communities.

As noble as the pursuit of a STEM career is, it’s not simply an aspirational goal; it is a national security prerogative.

ODMEO’s Director, Mr. Clarence Johnson, stressed the need for STEM professionals, particularly from minority communities. For instance, in the overall American STEM workforce, Hispanics represented 15% of U.S. workers but only 7% of the STEM workforce  and 5.3% of the DoD STEM workforce.

More work needs to be done to recruit and retain Hispanics – and other underrepresented groups – across all professional fields in the Department of Defense. The changing demographics of the population demand that pipeline development efforts keep pace so that DoD reflects the best of the nation it serves.

Mr. Johnson and his team in ODMEO do just that. They lay the groundwork to ensure that DoD can attract, develop, and retain a highly-skilled, diverse Total Force reflective of the nation.

The Department defines diversity as more than race, gender, and ethnicity – it includes diversity of thought, ability, background, language, culture, and skill. In the words of Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, “We have to live the values we defend, and America’s all-volunteer force is at its best when it reflects all the people of our nation.”

Mr. Johnson’s mantra is “A high quality force makes DoD strong. A high quality diverse force makes DoD even stronger.”

It is Mr. Johnson’s belief that young people will consider a career in the Department of Defense with the expectation that they will continue on a path to success to serve their country in their chosen field.

With ODMEO engagement, GMiS initiated the STEM-Up Initiative. By 2009, GMiS developed a scalable model of the Initiative in the primarily Hispanic Boyle Heights community of East Los Angeles. During the five-year pilot, the Initiative reached 20,000 students across 13 elementary schools, three middle schools, and four high schools. Students’ standardized exam scores started to improve.

Science fair participation leapt 727%. Soon, GMiS had universities, corporations, non-profit organizations, government agencies, and elected leaders knocking on its door to be a part of STEM-Up.

Through STEM-Up, the concept of STEM fields as a career framework and trajectory to success is now understood to be a veritable and attainable opportunity for thousands of students who otherwise would not have the exposure, curriculum, community support, and access to scholarships and role models. Enrollment in STEM fields has transformed the lives of many students and their families, and is now a route for socio-economic advancement.

DoD’s strategic relationships have a multiplying effect. A little support goes a long way and changes the lives of thousands, as evidenced by STEM-Up and the HENAAC Conference. ODMEO strives for the highest standards of diversity and inclusion, and continues on its own quest to incorporate competitive greatness across the Department of Defense and beyond.

Written by Kristen Handley, Office of Diversity Management and Equal Opportunity (ODMEO)
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