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Kate Sleeth, PhD

Academic Programs Administrator, City of Hope

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Recruitment Best Practices Are Needed to Activate Hispanics in STEM Education and Careers

11/29/2013 11:16AM | 7935 views

When it comes to STEM education, the U.S. is not faring well compared to other countries. According to World Economic Forum statistics cited by Level Playing Field Institute, the nation ranks “52nd in the quality of mathematics and science education” and “27th in developed nations in the proportion of college students receiving undergraduate degrees in science or engineering.”

They also found that the majority of our graduate school students are foreign-born, and the majority of engineers who receive a Ph.D. from our universities are not U.S. citizens. It’s no wonder our overall global competitiveness is ranked fifth – and continues to move in the wrong direction.

“The solution to America's competitiveness problem,” according to the National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering, “is to activate the hidden workforce of young men and women who have traditionally been underrepresented in STEM careers – African Americans, American Indians, and Latinos."

This solution is already resonating at City of Hope, especially with regards to the Hispanic community, which represents 71% of the population in our catchment area in the San Gabriel Valley northeast of Los Angeles. Throughout L.A. county, Hispanics are not only the largest minority group (48%), but larger even than the non-Hispanic white population (32%).

Recognizing a need to connect with local students and their families and introduce them to the value of a STEM education and the many careers it can open doors to, City of Hope partnered with the Duarte Unified School District to bring unique educational opportunities and experience to the community. As a result, today’s 2nd grader will have interacted with City of Hope scientists – through classroom visits, science activities and field trips – a minimum of three times by the time they reach high school. For high school juniors and seniors, we take it a step further – offering a summer research program in our community teaching lab, where they can conduct real cancer research on team-based projects.

Students can then continue doing research during the school year by being paired with an appropriate mentor from City of Hope. From here, they can go on to paid internships at the Eugene and Ruth Roberts Summer Student Academy at City of Hope, as either a high school or college student.

This year, City of Hope sponsored education and recruitment events aimed specifically at Hispanic college students interested in – or who might not yet have considered – a science or related career in healthcare or biomedicine.  These events included an exclusive Hispanic Leadership Program held in July at Rice University and the Jones Graduate School of Business, and a five-city College Leadership Tour currently taking place across the country.

Our commitment to education and diversity does not stop there. Students can earn their doctorate at City of Hope's Irell & Manella Graduate School of Biological Sciences, in an academic setting that fosters diverse talent, innovation and collaboration, and the direct application of research discoveries and scientific breakthroughs to curing disease and clinical problems.

The ultimate goal is to have a diverse workforce that mirrors the communities we serve so that we can better understand their needs and deliver the appropriate care for prevention and treatment, as well as move our research in the direction of the most prevalent life-threatening and chronic diseases.

But to reach that goal, we have to stack the educational pipeline with more Hispanics, not just in our little corner of the world, but throughout the country.  There are 50.5 million people of Hispanic origin living in America today – and they are the largest minority in 21 states – yet only 5 percent of U.S. physicians are Hispanic.

What is required now is a new emphasis on recruitment and outreach best practices geared to minority groups, and Hispanics in particular. Here are three best practices that are at the top of the list:

  • Communicating more authentically with diverse candidates, in culturally relevant ways that come most naturally to them. This will require looking through their lens, and no longer forcing everyone to see through the same (your) lens. Replace the hard sell by becoming more approachable and building a warm rapport that empowers students to believe in themselves and encourages them to reach for their goals.
  • Supporting the resources, tools and technology to begin long-term relationship building. For example, a proper database management system will enable you to effectively identify diverse candidates – and then maintain ongoing communication with them tailored to their specific educational needs and desired experience. At City of Hope, for instance, we promote our welcoming environment where students will grow and be challenged by high-caliber scientists.
  • Being more proactive in your thought leadership and recruitment investments. Facilitate your efforts by reaching out to educational, business, professional, community and government organizations. For Hispanics, there are many such groups – such as the National Hispanic Science Network, and Latino Business Student Associations on a number of campuses.

Going forward, I’ll be highlighting some of our most promising recruitment and outreach success stories who have come through our educational programs. City of Hope is also hosting an original thought leadership series on December 2 – “Strengthening the Hispanic Pipeline in the Healthcare and Biomedical Fields” – to help build greater awareness about educational opportunities, career management, recruitment, mentoring, networking, and professional development.


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