A Dream Deferred: How access to STEM is denied to many students


My interest in teaching and science outreach crystallized with NSF GK-12 Fellowship experiences in St. Louis. I was graduate student assigned as a Resource Scientist to a nearby public high school.  I was responsible for co-designing lesson plans and delivering lessons for biology and environmental science classes.  Science Fair project came around and there was big push to get all students involved.  There was a very low participation rate, but since I was the classroom scientist, I was responsible to helping students develop science fair projects and getting them ready for the competition.

Some of the students came up with some really amazing ideas. Not only because they developed some great questions and hypotheses, but because the questions were personally relevant to them.  Do cheaper brakes stop as quickly as more expensive breaks? Will cheaper brakes wear faster than more expensive ones? Are One-touch Diabetes testers as effective as traditional blood sugar testing devices that require more blood? The first two questions were posed by one of my boys – who declared his hatred of science daily, but he loved cars. The third question was posed by one of my girls who had diabetes and had to test her ‘sugar’ many times a day. Her grandmother had diabetes, too. She wanted to enlist her granny in her project.

However, like most of the other projects proposed by my students, these projects never happened. And what was more heart-breaking was that these kids interests in science (and the science fair) was dashed and never to be rekindled again.  For kids like my students – inner-city kids from poor families (whether working-class or on welfare), average or below-average academic performance, some with behavior problems – interests in STEM dies by 10th grade and one of three things kill the promise of opportunity.

  1. Lack of resources
  2. Benign discouragement by well-meaning adults
  3. Active exclusion by powerful gatekeepers

Written By: DNLee
continue to source article at blogs.scientificamerican.com


  1. Simply tell their parents that STEM is likely to lead to their children’s relative prosperity which is likely o result in support for them when they grow old.
    If religions in the US were taxed then this money could be usedvtobimprove the education of the poor.

  2. What a terrible indictment of the American (mis)education system.
    I can only hope that D. N. Lee will continue to expose this betrayal; I wish her success.

  3. The Science Fair project was mandatory in junior high, in high school it was mandatory to develop and test a hypothesis, then present the findings. Provincial science fairs were voluntary.

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