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The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

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Guest Opinion: Furthering Diverse and Green STEM Education in Utah

Guest+Opinion%3A+Furthering+Diverse+and+Green+STEM+Education+in+Utah

 

Over the past decade, Utah has been building its reputation of being a STEM hub. From Salt Lake City being ranked in the top 20 best cities for STEM careers to the Lehi area claiming the nickname “Silicon Slopes,” alluding to the renowned Silicon Valley, careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics have been experiencing unprecedented growth in the state. This trend persists nationally with data projecting a 10.8% growth in employment in STEM occupations in 10 years.

Unfortunately, many groups of people have traditionally been excluded from STEM careers, such as women, people of color, lower-income communities and LGBTQ+ people for social and economic reasons. While these issues are prevalent and pressing nationally, recent data shows that these disparities are especially prevailing in Utah. In 2022, for example, women constituted 27% of STEM employees nationally but only 21% of STEM employees in Utah, according to the Utah Women and Leadership Project at Utah State University. In order to create a more equitable community in the expanding STEM sector, change must be instigated.

The key to reducing inequality in STEM is encouraging STEM opportunities in K-12 education. This includes increasing funding for STEM educators and materials, like computers for coding and laboratory equipment, improving representation of people from minority backgrounds in industry and education, and expanding community and industrial outreach. Improving just one of these areas can lead to great benefits for the others. For example, Utah companies such as Vivint and Intermountain Healthcare who expanded their outreach to the community provided funding to many programs, which exposed more students to STEM. This can be further compounded with the inclusion of presenters that are from underrepresented backgrounds and by incorporating regions that are lower-income or rural.

We at the American Chemical Society Student Chapter at the University of Utah strive to help students, ranging from preschoolers seeing a science experiment for the first time to college students looking for their first job, feel included and supported in STEM. We focus on broadening educational opportunities to K-12 students by providing hands-on demonstrations planned and taught by U science students from a wide range of backgrounds. This provides early exposure to STEM to many kids who may have limited access to quality STEM education.

Some of the most special projects we’ve been able to participate in have been Girl Scout STEM nights full of oobleck, science shows at Primary Children’s Hospital and dozens of field trips and after school programs extracting strawberry DNA and making “elephant’s toothpaste.” There is truly nothing like seeing a student realize that science is exciting. Early scientific joy fosters future doctors, engineers and researchers.

Another aspect of STEM education we focus on at ACSSC at U of U is sustainable science. Teaching sustainable methods and climate science in an age-appropriate way in all science education can be beneficial in creating future change-makers — and it can even be cost-effective. There are many ways to teach science using reusable, recyclable and household items. One of our favorite experiments at outreach events for young kids is making water fireworks which only requires a clear cup, water, oil and food dye, all of which can be sourced from reusable and recyclable materials. 

Sustainable science can also motivate a sense of purpose and leadership in STEM fields among high school and college students. As the effects of climate change become more apparent, finding green solutions like reducing toxic byproducts and finding alternatives to petroleum-based plastics and fuels has become increasingly important. In our ACS chapter, we prioritize green chemistry initiatives like glove recycling, community education and student research, which has provided students with plenty of opportunities to lead and apply their knowledge in the sciences to important global issues that affect people from minority backgrounds disproportionately. These initiatives have inspired many of our chapter members and high school students to participate in research and engineering sustainability initiatives for their future careers, which is especially necessary in our global state. 

Overall, it is critical that we promote STEM education that prioritizes people from underrepresented backgrounds and environmental safety to create a more inclusive, sustainable field. Even through small acts such as volunteering to help with a science field trip or tutoring math at a local middle school, there can be profound impacts in increasing interest in STEM fields. If you would like to be involved with our efforts to increase STEM education and green chemistry initiatives, follow us on Instagram @uofuacs or send us a message via our email, [email protected]

 

— Delaney Miller, President of the American Chemical Society at U of U Student Chapter

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    John HedbergFeb 6, 2024 at 4:27 pm

    Hi, Delany~!

    I’m all for fostering inclusive participation in STEM education & careers for every flavor of person. You seem to assume that women, ethnic minorities, and other identities are being marginalized, but I haven’t seen any proof of that. I’m BIPOC and intersectional, and I’ve had more discouragement from racists who discriminate in the name of Equity than I have from any other cultural group. If there’s any real systemic racism in this country, it’s largely being produced by those who believe that you can judge a person at first glance by how they look, which is what Equity teaches and produces. Those Equity prejudices get in the way of every flavor of person in this country~!

    I’m on the lighter side in my very diverse family, but I’ve not received any “encouragement” from teachers or anyone else to pursue my STEM education. In fact, prejudiced professors sometimes give me condescending lectures (and grades!) in regard to my own “community”, even though I grew up in that community and they didn’t! 😂😂 To them, having a doctorate is the same as being expert in every field, not just the minute slice of life they actually wrote a paper about (“How I Spent My Summer in the Lab” doesn’t make you an expert in areas where you haven’t spent time. I shouldn’t have to explain this to science-based scholars, but evidently I do~).

    So, lack of active encouragement isn’t the same thing as someone discouraging you from doing something. Whether in school, at work, in sports, or any other effort-based endeavor, I’ve never been encouraged: it just doesn’t happen in real life very much, not to anyone. That’s not a bad thing, just something to get used to as you marshal your own determination to do good things with your life, not because of something perceived outside you, but because of what you think and feel and choose inside you~!! That’s most of life, even in my own family. It’s always up to me, and that knowledge is what allows me to succeed despite what’s going on around me (eventually, anyway~ 😋)

    Keep up the good work with the mentoring, though. Every child (all of them) needs to know they’re lovable and valuable, and those families whose interior culture don’t teach this enough produce children who give up early out of despair. I’ve seen a lot of that, so thank you for showing everyone’s kids that they’re valued, so they know to take responsibility themselves for making the most of that value born into them, for their own happiness and well-being, and for those around them who profit by their hard work and example.

    Regarding Climate Change, don’t worry so much about global warming or CO2. A coalition of 1608+ world scientists, including Nobel physicists and even an Obama administration climate advisor, have published a signed declaration stating that while climate change is occurring, there is no actual emergency due to changing conditions: the changes are neither very fast nor very severe, and since CO2 is literally plant food, the world’s growing area has actually been expanding & getting greener (satellite data supports this).

    It turns out that a lot of the climate models were based on faulty assumptions (hypotheses) that exaggerated the dynamics of change, and we’re actually near the lowest levels of CO2 ever registered in Earth’s planetary history: scientific study shows that plants are adapted to much higher CO2 than today’s, and vast new areas of presently subarctic permafrost are slowly warming, plants are growing faster in arid regions, and there is progressively more land area that supports green life in massive wilderness habitats like Northern Asia, Upper Canada, and Greenland.

    Emerging data now shows that rising CO2 could be a beneficial happening rather than a disaster: such temperature and CO2 fluctuations during the past few hundred million years created super-flourishing events of natural life, not the opposite, since faster-growing plants from all the extra CO2 provided abundant food for all kinds of fauna, a lot of it super-sized~! 😊 (shout out to the Natural History Museum).

    Kindly,

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