The Significance of Work-based Learning for the Untapped Student Population in STEM

Work-based learning plays a role in building up students’ confidence and work ethic; especially in the sense when professional participants come from similar underrepresented backgrounds.  Past research has shown that underrepresented students are less likely to pursue STEM, therefore, hands-on assignments with professionals’ guidance can potentially break down that cycle. Since students will be able to assist in high-tech or scientific functions, these opportunities will provide them framework to the relevance of STEM courses. The Green industry can be an example because many career opportunities have a STEM component in maintaining a healthier environment. Not to mentioned, the Government on the Federal and some on State level pledge to strengthen the Green policy.

A strong Green policy must align with an effective career pathway curriculum that will train the current and next generations to capitalize on these opportunities. Policy leaders must include diverse representation in the field as a necessity so that struggling communities can benefit from the decision-making process. K-12 is key because during the earlier stage of education development, we can really influence our youth. A work-based learning curriculum can benefit every student from all stages of secondary education. Pre-K- middle school would involve developing introductory STEM activities with professional partnerships. These activities must consist of games and activity-based workshops that will maintain a young students’ attention. You will be surprised how inviting professionals to classrooms may influence a young student to think about careers once they are old enough to make the decision!

As a child, my father taught phlebotomy in addition to his executive job at Yale New Haven Hospital. As a young student who barely started middle school, I was tasked with assisting my dad in organizing assignment materials. Despite limited responsibilities due to my young age, I subconsciously entered a career in workforce development. I witnessed how he helped women get off the welfare system by entering a Phlebotomy career; my experience accomplished similar goals. Although I never taught Phlebotomy, I have served as a career development specialist, assisting low-income participants to enter the workforce for many years. Work-based learning activities can help students see that any success is possible, especially for future first generation college students and graduates in the future. Given that career and technical institutions are modernized, work-based learning can assist middle school students with program choices during the application process.

High School students would reach the maturity level of working with industry professionals in addition to their courses. Labor laws still limit the type of responsibilities for students under 18, but any exposure still counts as experience. Unfortunately, lower-income high schools may not have enough resources to offer work-based learning in STEM, but luckily states are offering grants to address this gap. Others may not get introduced to careers in STEM until High School; however, project-based activities along with mentoring courses will build substantial confidence. States must ensure that these lower-income districts have the capacity of incorporating the STEM component to the Green pathway curriculum. Renewable Energy projects can expose students to the sophisticated aspect of STEM skills; especially in terms of statistics, data analysis, and Geography Information Systems (GIS).  

Untapped professionals have historically been the mastermind behind STEM, but unfortunately their successes were largely disregarded. Thankfully, movies like Hidden Figures revealed black women’s role in sending the first astronaut into space. They were the brains behind one of the most important space projects in the American history. However, there were many more examples even during the earlier development of humanity. Our youth need to understand that the capability was always there, but with hands-on exposure, they will see that achievement is still possible.

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