Achieving Cognitive Diversity Through Education – Diversity in Tech: Part III

February 19, 2019

Diversity in Tech is about physical representation and cognitive variation. But representation and variation show up the most in large workforces. Right now, there are more STEM jobs open, and opening, than there are people to fill them. Changing the educational pipeline is one way to both expand the workforce and broaden who has access to it.

STEAM education curriculums, adjustment of collegiate expectations and targeting educational initiatives are three key ways to increase cognitive diversity.

STEAM Classroom Experiences

STEAM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math, and a STEAM classroom experience means learning at the intersection of these skills. Arts includes all creative pursuits such as visual art, creative writing, dance, drama and music; meanwhile, STEM breaks down into the scientific concepts of hypothesis, research, design, implementation and application.

The inclusion of arts is a new wave of education to repair the “great schism” of scientists and artists. The two groups inspire each other, mutually lead to solutions and build the cognitive diversity that technology needs to tackle the grand challenges of society.

The STEAM education curriculums behind these classroom experiences use big picture questions — “How can I use art in engineering?” — to structure detail-oriented, problem-based learning and creative inquiries.

The goal is to instill a mindset in students where they see connections in their every day lives and have the skillsets to solve them effectively and innovatively. Ideally, this mindset will equip them to be better citizens and contribute intuitively to the STEM workforce that will dominate the market in the years to come.

One school pursuing the STEAM curriculum intensively is the South Carolina Governor’s School for Science and Math, a two-year high school. Art, language, history, drama and music opportunities complement the core pursuits of physics, biology, computer science, math and engineering in labs and classrooms. As well, the school gives juniors six weeks of hands-on professional research. SCGSSM grads have gone on to work for Google, DoorDash, university research teams, bio- and pharma- tech firms, Facebook and Sealevel Systems, Inc.

Of course, this is one school of many around the United States whose alum have found great success with a STEAM education.

Further Education, not Higher Education

In part one of our Diversity in Tech series, we mentioned the technology workforce gaps. The most crippling of these is the cybersecurity employee demand. It’s estimated there will be 1.8 million positions open in 2022 with no one to fill them, according to the Global Information Security Workforce Study. This gap is one of many related to STEM pursuits and technical skills. From advanced manufacturing to computer hardware design, there aren’t enough people. Community and corporate leaders have examined these workforce challenges to create solutions that empower business and technology development.

One of these challenges is the myth of the four-year degree and the lack of pre-college STEM experience. Increasing technology-based internships with hands-on experience is a key way to direct students into the STEM pipeline. Creating certificate-granting programs backed by manufacturers, engineering firms and information tech companies is another way to give students further education without requiring traditional higher education.

Other private entities have sought to grant degrees through independent academies or provide extracurricular support. For young girls, Karlie Kloss developed the Kode with Klossy summer camps. Adult coding bootcamps help adults transition careers without the hassle of college, although sometimes with the expense.

Beyond formal institutions such as tech-minded community colleges or certificate-granting programs, there is also room for corporate-sponsored technical training. Students with only a high school degree or some college should be able to receive on-the-job training that gives them the specific team-based and individual skills they need to help solve problems. Moreover, these programs can be targeted to specific individuals who have been locked out of previous educational opportunities due to lack of financial resources or discrimination.

Attracting Talent to Degree Programs

For positions that absolutely require the experience provided by a four-or-more-year collegiate education, it can be a struggle to maintain diversity. In Diversity in Tech: Part II, we mentioned that despite women outnumbering men in college, only 18% pursue engineering. The disparity is even worse for people of color: only 10% of Hispanic and black individuals enroll in engineering.

These statistics look similar in computing disciplines and some other sciences as well. This disparity can be caused by several issues. Before enrolling, students may not be selected due to bias. Sometimes, students do not feel welcome in degree programs due to outright discrimination by peers and professors or lack of representational role models.

Frequently, students don’t have an adequate education to enroll in these programs because systematic disenfranchisement dismantled their school systems or educational opportunities. This point is relevant the world over, when majority or authoritarian groups seek to marginalize the minority group through decreased educational funding. Thus, even international students may face barriers in entering the workforce as they grapple with a disparate education.

Moreover, STEM college programs are not always structured to accommodate non-traditional student lives such as veterans, single-parents or individuals with adult dependents. As a result, someone with the talent may not pursue the opportunity due to the time constraints. And, unfortunately, the costs to enroll in four-year programs are still prohibitive.

The answer to most of these challenges is getting students involved in tech sooner than college and updating programs to accommodate the changing student body. Recruitment can be hard without adjusting expectations about who could do well in tech. Stereotypes that were created by HR practices in previous generations that guide marketing or recruiting teams today will do more harm than good. By broadening expectations, programs can cultivate rich classes full of many talents to channel into tech-related fields.

Sealevel: Leading the Way

We believe in Diversity in Tech because we believe in improving the world of tomorrow by leveraging emerging technology of today.

We have the track record to show for it: Sealevel founder Tom O’Hanlan created Manufacturers Caring for Pickens County to address workforce challenges and increase technology development in the greater Pickens community. Sealevel also created an endowment at Clemson University for electrical and computer engineering students in the College of Engineering.

As an EOE, we welcome any candidate who brings the best ideas to the table. Visit our careers page today.