EDINBURG — The University of Texas-Pan American kicked off its annual Hispanic, Engineering, Science and Technology event Monday with a discussion on the future of women and Hispanics in the science and technology fields.
At issue was the lack of female and Hispanic students graduating with highly regarded STEM — or science, technology, engineering and mathematics — degrees.
“Our nation still has a long way to go to prepare young Latinas and Latinos for the jobs and careers of the future, particularly in the STEM fields,” said Rep. Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes.
In the U.S., Hispanics represent only 6 percent of science and engineering occupations despite accounting for 16.4 percent of the nation’s total population, according to a National Science Foundation report titled “Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering: 2013.” Only 23 percent of science and engineering jobs were held by a female population that represents roughly half of America. For Hispanic women the difference was even more pronounced: They accounted for 2 percent of all science and engineering jobs in the U.S. but 8 percent of the nation’s population.
“We know that barriers related to college affordability and the lack of preparation, mentoring and support preclude many Latinas from pursuing and succeeding in the STEM fields,” Hinojosa said.
Even with such poor representation, Hinojosa remained positive about the future of academic achievement for the Latino community.
As evidence for his optimism, the congressman cited a 110 percent increase in college enrollment for Latino students from 2000 to 2012.
“There’s no doubt that our nation has made substantial gains in expanding college access for Latinos,” he said.
Hinojosa also made it clear that Texas would have to be at the forefront of the movement to populate the STEM workforce with Latinos, noting that just over half of the state’s public school population is now Latino.
To that end, UTPA President Robert Nelsen discussed the ramifications of the school’s addition of new science and medical facilities, as well as new funding that will see it combine with UT-Brownsville to create a new, as-yet-unnamed university in the Rio Grande Valley.
“What will it mean?” Nelsen said. “It will mean a university with over 50,000 students. It will mean a university that will have the largest number of undergraduate Hispanic students in America. It will mean new doctoral programs in engineering, in science.”
The talk was part of a congressional roundtable discussion at the beginning of HESTEC, which UTPA holds every year to promote achievement in the STEM fields.
Monday’s event was only for teachers, but for the rest of the week HESTEC will serve to educate tens of thousands of middle school and high school students in the area, culminating in a community day for all ages this Saturday. For more information, contact UTPA at (866) 441-8872.