Editorial: There are tech-sector opportunities for women, minority workers

The nation’s economy can be helped significantly if the pace picks up in boosting the number of skilled workers for the tech sector, labor analysts report.

Take the example of computer science. The U.S. Department of Labor projected last year that by 2020 the country will likely be producing fewer than one-third of the new computer specialists needed by private industry.

An important strategy to address the tech-sector challenge is to increase the number of women and minority graduates in science, technology, engineering and math fields.

There’s considerable opportunity. The National Science Foundation points out that while only 18 percent of bachelor’s degrees in computer science go to women at present, 45 percent of eighth-grade girls scored at proficiency level on a national test of technology and engineering skills.

In 2015, the Washington Post reported that the field of statistics has had greater success at recruiting and retaining women than have most other STEM fields.

Ingredients for success, experts said, include creating more welcoming environments, establishing a critical mass of female students and promoting qualified female leaders. The article pointed to the statistics department at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln as a successful example.

World-Herald staff writer Rick Ruggles has reported on efforts in Nebraska and Iowa to boost outreach to female and minority students in tech-related majors.

Frantzlee LaCrete, an award-winning graduate of Chadron State College, will start medical school this fall at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, for example. A biracial student from Lewellen, a small town in western Nebraska, he is a participant in the Rural Health Opportunities Program, a collaboration of UNMC and Nebraska’s state college system to encourage rural residents to go into health care professions.

LaCrete has long shown a scientific aptitude and cites the importance of mentors in encouraging him.

A number of schools in Nebraska and Iowa are offering outreach programs in hopes of encouraging more women and minority students to explore science and related fields. Among them:

» Creighton University funds undergraduate and graduate-level scholarships for women studying science or math and established the Clare Boothe Luce Faculty Chair for Women in Science.

» The University of Nebraska at Omaha partners with Girls Inc. to provide a girls summer camp focusing on STEM opportunities.

» The College of St. Mary gives scholarships annually through its Marie Curie scholarship program for women in biology, chemistry or math.

» Nebraska Wesleyan University offers STEM scholarships to low-income students.

» Minority students receive dozens of scholarships in engineering, agriculture and other disciplines at Iowa State University. The scholarship program is named after prominent African-American scientific inventor George Washington Carver, who attended Iowa State and served on its faculty.

The country fortunately is seeing progress. Between 2008-09 and 2014-15, total degrees in STEM were up 39 percent for women, 30 percent for blacks and 76 percent for Hispanics.

That’s the kind of progress that’s needed. Encouragement from mentors and support from institutions of higher learning are opening up important opportunities to help students and our economy.

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