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Nurturing Today’s STEM Leaders Now
I wrote a blog post one year ago today about Nurturing Today’s STEM Leaders Now. I continue to hear stories of students, women in particular, who do not feel like they are supported to succeed in the STEM enterprise. I continue to mentor those who ask or cross my path. The work reminds me that a refresher message is needed.
Grit won’t grow in spaces that don’t build a sense of community and belonging for the people in it.
The Most Promising Women Are Leaving STEM
I met two amazing women one year ago. One is a Ph.D. biomedical engineering student and the other attends a regarded medical school preparing to become a family medicine physician. Both are naturally born leaders and have prior experiences as evidence of their leadership skills. Of course they are smart. The institutions that awarded them seats in their programs would not have selected them otherwise.
One left her program and the other was about to leave.
In the only way I knew how, I listened to their stories and encouraged and supported them in their decision. Why? Because 24 years ago, I experienced the same toxic environment: reductionist, depleting, non-supportive.
What a tragedy that such communities exist still in the 21st century! They not only function at predominately white institutions, but also within historically black colleges and universities.
Let’s Acknowledge the Reason
For that reason, much of my work entails helping STEM education communities within universities and non-profit organizations build a sense of community and belonging for teachers, faculty, mentors, and students. The effort is both invigorating and challenging for a notable (if not predictable) reason:
STEM people don’t generally display their affective side because they’ve been trained to focus on and value the cognitive dimension of the human experience. In fact, even if a student enters the space being more affective, meaning inspirational or dubbed as “social butterfly,” the individual is usually regulated to the margin or simply does not make it through the STEM terrain.
Positive Verbal Persuasion
Those of us who’ve crossed the chasm—through shear resilience and grit—are emerging to communicate that it takes both the affective and cognitive dimensions of our true selves to recruit, teach, enhance skills and retain students, especially women, in STEM.
Think about it:
- Do you know any scientific-based research labs with lead investigators who give their undergraduate and graduate students high fives or elbow bumps?
- Can you point to any who say things like: Great job on running that experiment last night! Keep it going! Can’t wait to see your genius emerge! Hang in there; the solution is forthcoming!
- Do any science labs or communities share expressions of collegial assets? Do they say things like: You rock! I’m so glad we are collaborating! Let’s create win-win situations wherein you win and so do I!
When leaders are willing to learn and do the requisite work to create a sense of community and belonging, such spaces offer a sense of physical and psychological safety. When they don’t, we know from the cannons of research that physiological and psychology unsafe spaces erode efficacy (grit), there is significant loss in human capital and talent.
Despite a highly common misconception in the STEM education community, learning does not occur under physiological duress and anxiety. Creating a sense of emotional and psychological safety and community are assets to scientific spaces. Most importantly, a sense of community belonging circumvents students and faculty from speaking with their feet—leaving with their amazing scientific knowledge and skills in tow and applying them to other disciplinary practices.
Grit, a blend of courage and resolve, won’t grow in spaces that don’t nurture, encourage or motivate its people. Like a desert with unrelenting heat and blowing sand, such environments grind students into a pulp, making them unrecognizable to themselves and the people who love them.
Consider Partnering with Innovative Learning Center
Innovative Learning Center partners with world-class institutions to change the common narrative of youth deficit to one of assets and abundance. We work to catalyze the next generation of STEM innovators and entrepreneurs. We provide research and evaluation consulting, data storytelling technology, logic model development, and educational products and programs to evolve academic and life success. Together, we socially innovate the realm of STEM education, creating inclusive STEM cultures, where people feel like they belong and that they matter significantly. We foster diverse 21st century achievement.
We are guided by our Mission Questions:
- How do we make inclusive cultures and diverse achievement in STEM the new norm in our lifetime?
- What does diverse achievement mean to you or your institution or organization?
- What does a culture of inclusion mean to you or your institution or organization?
- Social innovation is both process and product. How do you define these for your institution or organization?
Contact Innovative Learning Center to begin a dialogue about nurturing tomorrow’s STEM leaders now at www.ilearningcenter.education
Bandura, A. (1994). Self-efficacy. In V. S. Ramachaudran (Ed.), Encyclopedia of human behavior (Vol. 4, pp. 71-81). New York: Academic Press. (Reprinted in H. Friedman [Ed.], Encyclopedia of mental health. San Diego: Academic Press, 1998).
Pintrich, P. R., & Groot, E. V. de. (1990). Motivational and self-regulated learning components of classroom academic performance. Journal of Educational Psychology, 82(1), 33–40.
Zimmerman, B. (1990). Self-regulated learning and academic achievement: an overview Educational Psychologist, Vol. 25 (1990).