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Hirono Unveils Plan to Increase STEM Opportunities for Women, Minorities

Posted May 25, 2017, 03:01 PM HST
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Sen. Mazie Hirono. U.S. Senate photo.

Sen. Mazie K. Hirono has announced a plan to promote women and minorities pursuing professions and careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

Hironoʻs proposed plan includes two bills that would improve data collection and research on federal programs and grant activities; increase guidance for federal science agencies, federal laboratories, and institutions of higher education; and create competitive grant programs to promote more women and minorities in STEM.

“Supporting a diverse STEM workforce is critical to ensuring that Hawai‘i workers can compete in today’s global economy,” said Sen. Hirono. “By breaking down barriers to advancement, the STEM Opportunities Act and the Women and Minorities in STEM Booster Act represent a comprehensive approach to addressing factors that limit the progression of women and underrepresented groups in STEM fields.”

The STEM Opportunities Act would help federal science agencies and education institutions identify and overcome barriers that have limited the inclusion of women and minorities in STEM fields. The bill would provide universities and nonprofits with grant and recognition opportunities for mentoring these underrepresented groups in STEM.

The STEM Opportunities Act was cosponsored by Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-N.Y.) and Jeffery Merkley (D-Ore.) in the Senate.

“The need for full engagement in STEM by women and underrepresented minorities goes beyond enabling individuals to fulfill their dreams of becoming a scientist,” said Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas), who introduced the bill as a House Science, Space and Technology Committee Ranking Member. “Our economic future relies on what we do now to nurture the STEM talent that will be necessary to meet the demands of an increasingly technological and knowledge-based economy.”

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Hironoʻs Women and Minorities in STEM Booster Act, which was introduced by Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), would allow the National Science Foundation to award competitive grants for outreach, mentoring and professional development programs that support recruitment and retention of women and minorities in STEM fields. The law would also authorize funding for existing STEM outreach programs at the elementary and secondary school levels, with an emphasis on mentoring programs and faculty retention programs.

“STEM fields are the future of our economy, offering new job opportunities as we continue to innovate.” said Rep. Maloney. “Today, however, women hold less than a quarter of STEM jobs, and people of color only make up one quarter of this workforce. The STEM Booster Act would shift these trends and help bring more diversity to STEM fields with mentoring, internship, and outreach programs in these underrepresented communities.”

The Women and Minorities in STEM Booster Act was cosponsored by Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), and Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) in the Senate.

“Today’s introduction of the STEM Opportunities and STEM Booster Acts takes an important step toward increasing America’s competitiveness and reducing barriers that deter women and other underrepresented minorities from pursuing STEM fields,” said Lisa Maatz, vice president of Government Relations and Advocacy at the American Association of University Women. “Any serious attempt to modernize our science and technology workforce must include substantive efforts to broaden participation to fully include women, especially women of color. This will in turn spur innovation as well as economic growth. Yes, this is about equal opportunity, but it’s also simply good business. Congress must take action now.”

“Locally in Hawai‘i high-paying STEM jobs are spurring growth and boosting our island economy,” said Leslie Wilkins, vice president, of the Maui Economic Development Board (MEDB) and Director of the Women in Technology Project. “MEDB’s Women in Technology initiative continues to engage girls and women who are underrepresented in technology fields so that we can grow the STEM workforce pipeline and keep up with demand through hands-on STEM curriculum, training, mentoring and internship programs that have had a significant impact statewide. However, these programs still need support. Mahalo to Senator Hirono for introducing the STEM Opportunities Act and the Women and Minorities in STEM Booster Act to strengthen our efforts and create more opportunities for young women and minorities pursuing STEM careers and professions across the country.”

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