Editorial: Children in underrepresented communities need visible mentors

Keywords Editorials / Viewpoint

If you can see it and believe it, then you can achieve it.

That’s a variation of a quote from Arnold Schwarzenegger in his autobiography, “Total Recall: My Unbelievably True Life Story.” And it’s quite appropriate in describing what many people think is needed to increase diversity in highly professional careers related to science, technology, engineering and math.

Underrepresented communities need to see people like themselves in these fields if we as a society are to ever substantially increase the numbers of minority and immigrant children willing to step toward a career path that could lead them to becoming doctors, scientists, engineers and more.

A Pew Research Center report released earlier this year shows there has been little progress in increasing the share of Black graduates from a college-level STEM program over the past decade.

But the center’s poll of Black Americans found a widely shared view of how to solve the problem. About 54% of those polled said more visible examples of high achievers in these fields who are Black would make young Black people a lot more likely to pursue college degrees in STEM.

In recent years, we’ve been heartened to see several Indianapolis-area efforts to increase workplace diversity already putting this approach into practice.

In this week’s Focus section, readers will find a story about Republic Airways’ efforts to put middle-schoolers and older students from underrepresented communities in contact with pilots, mechanics and flight attendants who look like them.

Last month, the Aviation Career Summit drew more than 1,100 students from across the state to crawl into cockpits, try virtual-reality experiences and chat with Black and Latino pilots already on the job.

On Saturday, Community Health Network is bringing the Black Men in White Coats program to Lawrence North High School to introduce Black youth to Black medical professionals and urge them to consider a career in medicine.

As Dr. Anthony Sanders, a Black obstetrician-gynecologist with Community Health, told IBJ’s John Russell: “A lot of folks in our communities, unfortunately, just haven’t had the exposure to the process to know how to begin.”

Other ongoing programs in recent years also have been doing the laudable work of exposing young people to potential careers they might not have otherwise ever considered.

Junior Achievement of Central Indiana’s JobSpark annually provides area youth opportunities to explore many careers and talk to professionals already in the field.

Also, Indianapolis-based Vision Three Inc. is in the process of launching an $80 million initiative to allow students across the state to use virtual-reality labs to envision what certain careers could look like for them.

We applaud all these efforts and hope there will soon be more so that we can soon say minority communities are no longer underrepresented in high-paying STEM careers.•

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