Empowering Communities

Powering the Dream: Creating the Path to STEM Careers for Black Students

January 14, 2022

The contributions of the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. continue to inspire us today, as we reckon with racial inequality and a lack of opportunity for minorities, women, Veterans and residents across all demographic groups.

In Dr. King’s 1967 speech, “The Other America,” he described the existence of two American experiences. One America that is prosperous and full of opportunity, and a Black American experience where economic injustice is fueled by systemic racism.   

“One America is beautiful for situation. And, in a sense, this America is overflowing with the milk of prosperity and the honey of opportunity… And in this America millions of young people grow up in the sunlight of opportunity. But tragically and unfortunately, there is another America. This other America has a daily ugliness about it that constantly transforms the ebullience of hope into the fatigue of despair. In this America millions of work-starved men walk the streets daily in search for jobs that do not exist… Little children in this other America are forced to grow up with clouds of inferiority forming every day in their little mental skies. As we look at this other America, we see it as an arena of blasted hopes and shattered dreams.” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at Stanford, “The other America” 1967.

Women and people of color continue to be dramatically underrepresented in STEM fields. According to Pew Research, Black and Hispanic workers also continue to be underrepresented in the STEM workforce. Black workers make up 11 percent of the U.S. workforce overall but represent 9 percent of STEM workers, while Hispanic workers comprise 16 percent of the U.S. workforce but only 7 percent of all STEM workers. And in 2019, women made up 28 percent of the jobs within the STEM workforce — despite making up 50 percent of the national workforce, according to the National Girls Collaborative Project. The STEM field is even less inclusive of Black and Latina women, who represent only one out of 20 employed scientists.

“Strengthening our commitment to STEM education among diverse youth is critical to helping close the gap that exists for women and minorities in STEM careers,” said Michelle Blaise, senior vice president of technical services at ComEd. “For more than seven years, ComEd has provided year-round programming that inspires students to build confidence, knowledge and career paths in STEM to open doors of opportunity and help pave the way for future diverse STEM leaders.”

To neutralize continued inequalities in marginalized communities and to inspire interest in STEM careers, ComEd provides educational and training opportunities to prepare diverse students for a career in STEM fields. Launched in 2020 to safely offer STEM programming during the COVID-19 pandemic, the ComEd STEM Home Labs program is one example of ComEd’s programming to encourage the next generation of local STEM talent and increase diverse representation in the STEM field. 

For the summer edition of the program in 2021, 100 diverse Chicagoland high school students participated in virtual sessions to build their own Mars Rover. The program culminated with an in-person event in which students used their rovers to navigate various “Marscapes,” with each teen using their own rover and learned skills to complete tasks.  

STEM programming and mentorship at an early age are the keys for young people to pursue careers in STEM.

“I remember being in school, pursuing my engineering degree, and being one of the only women of color in my specified classes made it especially challenging,” said Maya Garcia, civil engineer and ComEd STEM program mentor. “It’s such a hard field when you’re going through school and feeling like you are alone. I want to make it easier for the next generation and be the vessel that leads them to new opportunities.”

Garcia is one of the many ComEd leaders to serve as mentors for students/youth aspiring to a career in STEM. To learn more about STEM education programs and how ComEd is supporting the next generation of innovators visit ComEd.Com/STEM.

Here’s to powering a future where all young people, regardless of race, gender or zip code, can grow in the sunlight of opportunity.