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Is STEM Seeing Enough Colors?

The seven scholars programs at UMBC support interests ranging from fine arts, public affairs, humanities, and STEM. Many of these programs, specifically those for STEM, are focused on promoting diversity with the intent of producing a more colorful workforce. Though these programs do a great job promoting specific groups, they certainly could be doing more to promote others.

The Meyerhoff Scholars program at UMBC has been recognized as a national role model for leading the way in diversifying the STEM workforce. Originally, the program existed to help young black men achieve in science and engineering. In1990, women were first admitted. In 1996, students of all ethnic backgrounds dedicated to increasing diversity in STEM were included. Meyerhoff does an amazing job with increasing representation for people of color.

However, since 1996, the program has not adapted to focus on increasing diversity. LGBTQ+ people are among some of the most underrepresented in all STEM fields. The Meyerhoff program could do so much more to make potential LGBTQ+ scholars feel more welcome.

In each cohort to date, the number of LGBTQ+ students can be counted on one hand. Freshman Meyerhoff scholar and chemistry/physics double major Autumn Cook said, “I believe I was the first openly gender nonconforming/trans person that went through the summer bridge program in Meyerhoff.”

In addition to putting effort into welcoming students of color and cisgender students, the scholar programs at UMBC could extend invitations to queer students interested in STEM as well. “I want to see more training, more sympathy, more inclusion, and more efforts to increase diversity.” Autumn stated, “People say they want to increase diversity but they don’t actually do it. They don’t actually put it into practice.”

Inclusion of queer scientists and engineers should begin far earlier than in college. There are a plethora of programs targeted at high school students of color and women interested in STEM. Similar programs targeted at LGBTQ+ youth would be extremely valuable for increasing representation.

The Center for Women in Technology program was established in 1998 in an effort to increase the number of women entering the STEM workforce. CWIT is a very young program and does a great job at being inclusive of many different genders and sexualities.

Zoee Leckron, a sophomore computer science/fine arts double major, says, “As someone in CWIT who is not straight, I have not felt uncomfortable in my identity. I haven’t felt like people are looking down on me for it.” Every CWIT scholar is required to take a gender and women’s studies course in order to ensure they understand what it means to be a woman in a predominately male field. In addition, every time CWIT scholars gather they include their pronouns in their introductions so as to promote inclusivity of non-binary genders.

However, the CWIT program could use improvement in including more scholars of color. Sriniti Jayaram, a sophomore CWIT scholar and mechanical engineering major says, “I remember coming in on my first day of school, when we first moved in as a cohort, and looking around the room and seeing that I’m the only Indian scholar in my class.” Although she was surrounded by other women, she still was isolated in another way.

If the scholars programs at UMBC wish to remain great role models for diversity in STEM, it is absolutely essential for these programs to broaden their definitions of diversity in their own ways.