Seventeen-year-old Indrani Das just won the top high school science prize in the country. Das, who lives in Oradell, N.J., took home $250,000 from the former Intel Science Talent Search, now the Regeneron Science Talent Search, for her study of brain injuries and neuron damage. In her spare time, she's already working with patients as a certified EMT.
In last year's contest, according to one study, more than 80 percent of finalists were, like Das, the children of immigrants. As the Times of India pointed out, Das, a Jersey girl whose parents were born in Kolkata, was one of five Indian Americans among the competition's top ten finishers.
What is it that spurs so many people with foreign roots to excel in science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM disciplines? The cultural stereotype is broad; it sweeps in both immigrants and their children from many different parts of the world.
Some invoke tropes like that of the "Tiger Mother," for an explanation.
Not Marcos Rangel. For a new study published in the journal Demography, Rangel, an economist at Duke University, and his co-author, Marigee Bacolod of the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School, looked at U.S. Census data for young adults who arrived in the United States before age 18. The data covers in detail the relative skills required for different occupations, such as physical strength, communication skills, social skills, math and reasoning. For those who went to college, they were also able to see what major they chose.