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HBCUs' Role in STEM Diversity

Historically black colleges and universities are providing resources to support minorities in the sciences, writes Alexandra Ossola at the Atlantic. She notes that Hispanics, African Americans, and Native Americans comprise 26 percent of the US workforce, but are only 10 percent of the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics workforce.

"My philosophy has always been that training underrepresented minorities is not for just them alone — anything you do to help them is of value to anyone else," Brown's Andrew Campbell tells her. "We have a workforce [in STEM] that's not diverse." 

But, Ossola says, many young underrepresented minorities face a number of hurdles to pursuing a career in the sciences. For instance, minority students are more likely to face disciplinary action in school, have limited exposure to STEM fields, and may be influenced by stereotypes and self-doubt, before even getting to college when most student decide to pursue a STEM career.

HBCUs, though, offer not only the technical skills students need, but also soft skills like communication and professionalism. Many HBCUs, for example, send students to present work at conferences to bolster those skills and build networks.

"Many minority students who graduate from HBCUs do so with the understanding that they can hold their own in their field of choice, no matter how technical it may be," Ossola writes. "This confidence, several HBCU graduates told me, is what stops them from giving up when they feel overwhelmed by the subject matter or intimidated by others in their field."