STEM Plan for Women, Minorities Reintroduced

October 6, 2019, 10:27 AM HST (Updated October 6, 2019, 10:28 AM)
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Hawai‘i on the Hill 2019. PC: Office of Sen. Mazie Hirono

Senator Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawai‘i) recently reintroduced a legislative plan to improve opportunities for women and minorities in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.

“Women and minorities in STEM fields face obstacles at every step of their careers,” said Hirono. “The STEM Opportunities Act and Women and Minorities in STEM Booster Act will break down barriers and promote opportunities to engage our entire talent pool. As the demand for STEM workers grows in Hawai‘i and across the country, we must ensure that pathways to these jobs are inclusive of all Americans.”

Senator Hirono’s plan consists of two bills:

STEM Opportunities Act: Introduced in the House of Representatives by House Science, Space, and Technology Committee Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas), the STEM Opportunities Act requires increased data collection to better understand who receives federal grants, clarifies guidance for grant reviewers to minimize the effects of implicit bias and establishes federal grants to promote research-based recruitment and retention practices for minority faculty and students at institutions of higher education.

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Additionally, the bill requires guidance for federal laboratories and institutions of higher education to identify any cultural or institutional barriers that limit the recruitment and retention of women and minorities in research careers.

The legislation builds on work done through the American Innovation and Competitiveness Act (AICA), which President Obama signed into law in early 2017.

Following Senate introduction last week, the bill passed the House by voice vote.

Women and Minorities in STEM Booster Act: Introduced in the House of Representatives by Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), the Women and Minorities in STEM Booster Act establishes grants to support programs designed to increase participation for women and minorities in STEM.

Under the bill, these programs would include online workshops, mentoring programs to connect professionals with students, internship programs for undergraduate and graduate students, outreach programs for K-12 students, retention programs for STEM faculty and other related programs.

“Women today make up half of the current workforce, yet they still hold less than a quarter of all STEM jobs. Many groups including African-American, Hispanic, and Asian populations, make up only a quarter of the STEM workforce,” said Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney. “It is all too clear that women and minorities are being left behind. That needs to change.”

Local groups have expressed support for both bills.

“Locally in Hawai‘i, high-paying STEM jobs are spurring growth and boosting our island economy,” said Leslie Wilkins, president and CEO of the Maui Economic Development Board and founding director of the Women in Technology Project. “MEDB’s Women in Technology and STEMwork initiatives continue 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.”

Numerous national groups have ​also endorsed the STEM Opportunities Act including the American Council on Education, American Society for Engineering Education, American Society for Microbiology, Computing Research Association, IEEE-USA, Society of Women Engineers, American Physiological Society and American Association for the Advancement of Science.

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