Representation and equity in STEAM matters. In June 2020, Malone Mukwende, a medical student in London, announced a handbook he developed for diagnosing conditions in Black and Brown skin. He created it because he couldn’t find examples of darker skin in clinical manuals. The lack of representation of darker skinned people, along with other systemic issues in the medical system and society in general, has contributed to poorer health outcomes for Black and Brown people.
Malone’s unique perspective gave way to an innovation that will improve physician training to serve patients with a wider range of skin colors. Spotlighting the brilliance and work of changemakers of color (and other underrepresented groups) in STEAM fields is an important first step towards allowing students to imagine themselves as scientists, engineers and mathematicians.
As STEAM educators, we can do this by choosing media that feature people who are from backgrounds traditionally underrepresented in STEAM fields. The Physics Girl series can be used to highlight a woman in the physical sciences. If you’re a biology teacher who is discussing cell division with students, you can supplement your textbook with excerpts from the book or movie, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, about the young African American woman whose cell line has been used for science research for decades without her or her family’s knowledge. You may use videos that feature a host or producer of color like Above the Noise or Crash Course Physics. In addition to ensuring students see examples of people in STEAM who share some of the same identities, we need to also give young people opportunities to engage in meaningful work in these fields.
Our students need to literally see themselves in STEAM, and others need to see them, too.
Hands-on project-based learning in school allows students to develop the habits of mind and gain the knowledge, skills and confidence that will build their science identities and give them access to careers in STEAM. To change perceptions on a broader level about who can be a STEAM professional, our students need to literally see themselves in STEAM, and others need to see them, too. Educators can take hands-on learning a step further and give their students the chance to produce videos, audio pieces, graphics and other multi-media that feature themselves as scientists, engineers and mathematicians.