Maria Cardona: An Instrumental Voice in Bridging the STEM Gap

by Wendy Rivera-Aguilar on August 26, 2013

Maria CardonaAs the nation’s dynamic and second-fastest growing occupation industry, Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) related occupations are growing at a rate three times faster than any other. Despite this growth, women and minorities earned a shrinking share of STEM degrees, and African Americans and Latinos remain underrepresented.

Maria T. Cardona is poised to close this gap. In her role as  Co-Chair of inSPIRE, a coalition of leaders devoted to addressing immigration crises and increasing the STEM pipeline to ensure the U.S. remains competitive relative to other countries, Cardona sheds light on the abysmal number of minorities in these fields.

Known as a revered political strategist and formidable public policy expert, Cardona has championed Latino issues for over a decade. She has been recognized as an influential Latina leader and a fierce proponent of bridging the STEM gap, especially as Latinos are the fastest growing segment of the U.S. population and workforce. While this demographic is projected to total 25 percent of the U.S. population by the mid- 21st century, the number of Hispanics represented in the STEM workforce increased by a mere one percentage point from 2000 to 2009.

In her recently published article titled “The Importance of STEM For Latina Mothers,” Cardona succinctly points out that “if the percentage of Latinos in the workforce is increasing, the percentage of Latinos in STEM fields should also be increasing.” She also mentions that “seeking to ensure our kids have access to education strong enough to prepare them for top jobs as tomorrow’s computer programmers, scientists, inventors, engineers or astronauts should be at the forefront of most of our minds.”

Cardona’s article resonates with many of us who focus on our kids’ education with, as Cardona describes it, an “eye toward their futures and the opportunities they will have as adults in the workforce.” As a Latina mother like Cardona, I agree with her on the stark disparity that plagues our community and nation, and I applaud her powerful advocacy on these issues. As parents, we do not want our children to lag behind; instead, we want them to be able to compete and succeed in this global economy. I also echo Cardona’s sense of urgency on advocating for the importance of STEM and increasing the number of Latinos and other minorities in these industries, particularly as they are the future of America’s economy.

Investment in STEM education in this digital age should be one of the first steps in fostering a sustainable STEM pipeline. This could include incorporating more digital tools in the classroom – especially those of low-income students.  Educators, for example, could introduce various “fun” STEM careers such as video game design, in which many students may not have had exposure to before, through partnerships with organizations and agencies like Department of Education, to incorporate innovative and educational Web games to enrich STEM curriculum.

While it is abundantly clear that minorities and women are disproportionately underrepresented in STEM fields, tapping into the talent that lies in the largest and fastest-growing segment of the minority population brings great potential in reversing the shrinking shares of STEM degrees that Latinos and other minorities earn.

I tip my hat to Cardona for her powerful voice and unwavering commitment to narrow the STEM gap, and for her efforts to ensure more women and minorities are represented in these fields.

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