Why America’s Economy Needs Diverse Youth to Study STEM.
STEM is the acronym for the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. We all know how a discussion of these STEM-related programs have become extremely important to such an extent it has even reached the president’s priority lately due to the very few number of college students pursuing degrees in such important fields. Former president Barack Obama himself continually put pressure on and referred to the importance of STEM education in making the United States more competitive in the global economy as a result of STEM being the key to major innovations and job creations in the US.
Dr. Kai Dupé is a pioneer in the technology industry, having completed his doctorate degree at Pepperdine University. His dissertation, Coding While Black, focuses on the lack of African-American software developers and coders. Besides having the experience of more than 30 years in the field of software development, Dr. Kai Dupé has spent the last 15 years as a technical trainer and software development consultant. He is also an expert in Cloud Computing and programming languages such as Python, Delphi and C#.
Our staff sat through an interesting conversation with Dr. Kai Dupé to discuss why America’s economy needs diverse youth to study STEM, the growing disparities in education technology and what that actually means for the future of its economy.
Tell us a little about the growing disparities in education technology that will greatly impact the future of the United States’ Economy.
These days the disparity is not so much in what tech is available to one group over the other although this still exists to some degree. Today the disparity is centred around the differences in how students are taught to use the technology. In poorer communities, students are taught the basics of using something like Microsoft Office, whereas in affluent communities, students are taught about the possibilities and the different ways to use technology to innovate and launch businesses.
What in particular stirred up your interest in wanting to help with the diversity retention and recruitment dilemma in the tech industry?
My experience in the tech industry as well as my realisation of those African-Americans who will be left out of the innovated economy if they do not possess the requisite tech skills.
Could you tell us a little about your dissertation “Coding While Black“.
Coding While Black is my research study that I conducted at Pepperdine University. It was a phenomenological study where I studied about 15 African-American software development engineers to understand their lived experiences as professional software developers. I learned about the obstacles they faced as African-Americans and the strategies they used to overcome those obstacles.
Tell us about the obstacles the African-American professionals face and the obstacles you overcame.
There are many obstacles that were revealed during my research. However, some obstacles emerged more consistently than others among the research participants. More than 50% of the participants in my research indicated that the lack of training support and opportunities was the biggest obstacle they faced as African-American software development engineers. A lack of mentors also emerged, which was about not having a mentor who could have helped them in navigating the terrain in corporate America as well as someone to help them with career planning. Not having mentors or support of any sort, leads to feeling isolated in a very challenging and seemingly unwelcome environment was a formidable obstacle to overcome. Another obstacle that was shared among the participants was not having [a common culture] with their colleagues and managers. This was another huge obstacle that needed to be mitigated in order to have a successful career as a software development engineer. Several participants provided examples of how differences in culture affected their ability to be their authentic self in the workplace, and having to work to be perceived as someone who is not harmful or threatening.
About the strategies they used to overcome these obstacles:
60% of the participants mentioned the importance of having excellent communication skills to help them overcome some of the challenges that they faced as African American Software development engineers. The ability to code-switch was also expressed as a critical factor for success. Code-switching is the practice of alternating between two or more languages or any combination of languages in conversation. Many of the participants also spoke about the importance of continuing to educate themselves over the course of their career to overcome the obstacles they were being faced with. It was also very crucial to build and maintain their confidence as part of their strategy to be successful in their respective field. Several other participants, four out of fifteen pinpointed the importance of confidence, self-esteem and self-worth as a strategy for overcoming their obstacles as African-American Software development engineers. These strategies prove about how important it is that the next generation sees role models in large numbers doing this, because when you see your peers doing it then it becomes believable and bolsters confidence and self-esteem.
STEM education that you think should be provided with and made easily accessible to the students of US for the betterment of its future economy?
It is not about what the students are provided with, it is about how they are taught. Most schools just teach the very basic literacy skills. What needs to happen is that they need to be taught in such a way that unleashes their imagination to the possibilities of what is possible using technology. Instead of simply teaching “Drill and kill” skills.
Based on your dissertation, what do you think are the possible ways to capture the interest of the African-American Community population in order to stir up their interest in the field of tech?
I think the main ways to do this would be to change the messaging. Most people in the black community have this idea that being involved in tech is so difficult. They feel that they have to be some kind of genius or nerd in order to be successful in the field of tech, which is wrong. This is the first thing that I have been working to change. I refer to it as the “De-bunking the genius myth”.
Could you please tell us a little about the different methods that could be put into practice in order to bridge the gap in STEM education in our communities committing to the much needed level of investment in the tech industry?
In my opinion, what is central here is a good understanding of math. The problem with most in our community is that their math confidence is destroyed very early in their academic careers. We need to bolster the confidence of our young people as it pertains to math and employ a growth mindset by letting them know that they are just as capable of mastering math as anyone else.
What are some noteworthy advice you would like to give today’s teenagers, who are yet to graduate from high school and enrol themselves in colleges regarding why they should consider pursuing a degree in the fields of STEM subjects?
I personally think pursuing a career in STEM is very good idea. It is a very lucrative area and one’s understanding of these subjects can be a foundation that leads to expanding your career options as STEM and particularly technology has permeated all areas of American culture and life. Because of the fast phase of growth of technology, this is also the fastest growing segment of the economy and there are so many job opportunities in the STEM fields. I would suggest that students only enrol in STEM subjects if they have a strong passion and desire for the subject. My reasoning for this is that you are embarking on a career that involves life-long learning and continuous learning in order to keep up with the changing landscape. It takes a lot of effort to stay current and if you are not driven by your love for the subject, you will never be successful in this field.
Thank you, Dr. Dupé, that was interestingly enlightening. We hope you continue to do the great work you have been contributing to the community as well as the nation as whole. On behalf of Merak and the entire team, we wish you all success with everything you plan to land on in the future.