Mar 24, 2011

Why black college students struggle with science
As a chemical engineer, I found the article below  to be very interesting.  As a high school student, I graduated with a very high GPA.  I was great at science and math although those were not the subjects that held the most interest for me.  I went to college and majored in Chemistry/Pre-Med because I wanted to be an OB/Gyn.  Eventually I decided that I no longer wanted to go to medical school after I did an internship and practicing surgeons relayed to me how much in debt they were in.  I quickly went back to campus and had a talk with my advisor (my mother didn't know anything about this) and decided I wanted to change my major.  It was my advisor that suggested that I become a chemical engineer.  Honey trust me, I was not at all prepared when I had to take my first major couse which happened to be Material Balances.  Nothing could prepare you for the coursework when it comes to chemical engineering.  When you have to take classes called Transport Phenomena, Unit Operations, Kinetics, Thermodynamics, and so forth, you know you are no longer in Kansas.  I might not have graduated Summa Cum Laude (more like Thank you Lordy) like I was planning on doing, but I have to say that I would not have changed anything about my experience.  In order to change a coal into a diamond, pressure must be applied.  Majoring in the science and engineering fields are not for the faint of heart but trust me if you can make it through you are so much better for it.  It really shows you what you are made out of as a person.  It also doesn't hurt the fact that you have a better chance of getting a job than some of your fellow classmates provided you do an internship. 
Via TheGrio:
Black undergrad students are struggling in science. It's a myth that black students just don't like science, or aren't interested in it.

In fact, freshman year of college, black and Hispanic students have the same degrees of interest in science careers according to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.

But black and Hispanic students are less likely than white and Asian students to major in or obtain a doctoral degree in science career fields.

In 2000, black students in science and engineering fields received about 35,000 bachelor's degrees. In 2009, the number had gradually increased to about 45,000, compared to about 540,000 recipients from all races and ethnicities (U.S. Dept. of Ed).

The real wealth generators in today's global economy are people with technical skills. A recent report by the U.S. Labor Department suggests that over the next 10 years, the need for technical people in this country is going to grow by 50 percent (UCCR)," Robin Willner, Vice-President of Global Community Initiatives for IBM stated.

Black students struggle for different reasons; some include feeling isolated in the classroom, getting left behind with the coursework or not having a strong connection with their professors.

Jayson Stone, 22, entered University of Maryland, College Park as a computer engineering major in the fall of 2006.

"I did engineering for two years, but I kind of didn't like it," explained Stone. "I decided I was better suited for business aspirations I also had, so I switched to economics."

Stone was valedictorian of his Baltimore high school; he was involved on Maryland's college campus and describes himself as an extrovert. Math was his favorite subject since he was young, but his engineering courses freshman year shocked him.

"There was a realization for me," said Stone. "As I looked around at my classmates, I realized I'm not like anybody else. I literally felt like the only thing we had in common was our coursework...after class, we weren't going to do the same things."

Stone says the subject matter was interesting, but learning it wasn't. The classes were lecture-only and there was a lack of connection with the professors who were teaching.

"I had a 3.0 GPA when I started in computer engineering," said Stone. "And that went down as I took more engineering courses. I anticipated the coursework was going to get increasingly more difficult... so I thought to myself, I'm already struggling now, maybe I'll make it out of college with a 2.7, 2.8 and an engineering degree. But I won't be completely interested in the maybe I can follow my business aspirations now."

Following his business aspirations is exactly what Stone did. Since numbers were still his passion and he was outgoing, Stone decided the economics major would allow for the best combination of his personality and skills.

"I definitely had access to on-campus tools to improve my grades while I was an engineering major. But the business field is just more upbeat, the economy major is still lecture style but it's slightly more interactive," said Stone.

Also passionate about giving, Stone started an education business--offering full range tutoring services to elementary, middle and high school students and he hopes to include SAT prep soon too.

Struggling in classes, falling behind and possibly risking their future success may be the result of what scholars in the UCCR report call academic mismatch.


  1. As a former mechanical engineer, now career advisor at a large predominantly white institution, I have to say that alot of students make decisions about careers based on inadequate information. Being good in math and science does not mean that a student should automatically be an engineer. Personally, if I had it to do all over again, I'd become a physical therapist/athletic trainer. But I digress...

    STEM fields are considered tough curriculums. I've discovered that tough is relative. I finished my engineering degree with above a 3.0 There were definite challenges and I went to a PWI but there was quite a bit of support for minority students.

    Probably the best piece of advice I've ever heard for the retention and persistence of minority engineering students is to allow students to retake fundamental classes again without penalty to have a firmer foundation to build upon to excel in STEM fields. That advice has been put into practice and Univ. of Maryland at Baltimore County and lots of their students are thriving and pursuing advanced degrees in STEM fields.

  2. I started out my first comment stating that alot of students make decisions about careers based on inadequate information.

    All students, but since we are discussing black students need to be better informed about the STEM fields amd what it truly takes to become an engineer, mathematician or scientist. They in fact may be intellectually capable of excelling in a technical field but the university environment typically is not what they are prepared for. To me that is one of the gaps that need to be filled.

    I'll get off my soapbox. I have alot that I can say from both a personal and professional perspective on this topic.