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Why Our Future Depends on More Latinos Getting Involved in STEM

The 21st century world demands diverse perspectives to deliver the solutions to complex problems, and Hispanic people can play a huge part in that STEM-focused future. We asked a couple industry experts about why we need and how we can get more of these students to consider STEM careers.

Juan Torres

Associate Director, National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL)

What is the best first step for a Hispanic person looking to pursue a career in the STEM space, specifically as it pertains to energy?

The first step for anyone interested in a STEM career in energy is to tap your sense of curiosity. STEM careers are founded in understanding the world around us and using that knowledge to improve how we live, work, and play.  

Then talk to guidance counselors, university advisers, teachers, family members, and friends in STEM fields; other students; and, if possible, scientists and engineers to learn more about STEM career fields. They will be happy to share their knowledge and advice, and guide you along the path you choose. 

The energy-related STEM fields hold significant promise as every aspect of our lives relies on energy. Follow your passion, never stop learning, be persistent, and you will have a rewarding career. 

Why is Hispanic representation in energy STEM fields so critical?

The Hispanic population is the largest ethnic demographic in the United States, yet we are significantly underrepresented in STEM fields. Because of this, our country is missing out on so much of the creativity and ingenuity from this talent pool. 

Representation is important because it shows the way to what’s possible. When students are able to see and talk to Hispanic scientists, researchers, engineers, and leaders in a STEM field, it can open their imaginations to careers and other opportunities they may not have considered for themselves. 

I also strongly believe that a diverse workforce fosters the best science. Innovation thrives in conditions where people with different perspectives and experiences are able to contribute, flourish, and lead. 

The urgent technical challenges of our rapidly evolving energy system will require fresh perspectives and new ways of thinking. There is an enormous opportunity for Hispanics to drive technological advancements that are critical to shaping our world and positioning the success of future generations. 

What would you say to any young Hispanic person that is looking to pursue a career in STEM?

It is an exciting time to work in STEM and an even more exciting time to work in energy. 

Energy is the lifeblood of our society. It powers our cell phones, computers, appliances, healthcare system, transportation system, financial system, and many other aspects of our lives. 

Right now, we are experiencing significant opportunities and challenges that are pushing our current energy system in ways never seen before. 

Renewable sources of energy are getting cheaper and making up a larger share of the energy mix. Sectors that once operated separately from each other, such as electricity, transportation, buildings, and fuels, are now overlapping and interconnecting with each other. New challenges in keeping our energy secure are arising from climate change, extreme weather, cyber attacks, and other factors. 

At the same time, technological advancements in new materials and devices, energy storage, innovative ways to control energy, artificial intelligence, and advanced computing provide promise to transform our energy system like never before.

So what I would say to any young Hispanic person looking to pursue a career in energy-related STEM is simple: Come on over, we need you! Your work can make a tremendous impact on the daily lives and futures of people in our country and around the world.  

If I could leave one additional piece of advice from my experience: persistence is essential to succeeding in the long term. Careers in STEM can be difficult at times. No matter the field you go into, there will be ups and downs. Perseverance will allow you to keep going through the rough patches. If you get discouraged, reach out to your network for advice. There are many people out there who want to help you succeed. 

Raquel Tamez

Chief Executive Officer, Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE)

What is the best first step for a Hispanic person looking to pursue a career in the STEM space?

When I meet someone interested in STEM, the first thing I say is “Welcome! And good for you! Bravo!” 

I enthusiastically invite them to explore the many opportunities and possibilities in STEM. I encourage them to identify which fields are most appealing to them. I explain that the easiest way to start is to go online — read and watch videos. NASA, National Science Foundation, and many other organizations have countless resources to describe all the many and various fields in STEM, and the exciting work being done. 

I further explain that it’s imperative that they continue to take math and science courses, and if not currently enrolled in these, to talk with a counselor or adviser, and figure out how to start. Finally, I say that it’s never too late to start, but to do STEM, you must start. 

Why is representation in STEM so critical?

The world is facing complex problems — global pandemic, climate change, racial and financial inequalities — and we know from both experience and research done by Scott Page that diverse teams lead to better solutions to complex problems. 

Diversity of perspectives, life experiences, thoughts, and opinions all lead to richer discussion and better solutions. Page describes it as a “diversity bonus,” an extra amount that is achievable from diverse teams. 

This added benefit is gained when working on complex problems rather than simple ones, and in order to gain this diversity bonus, organizations must make it possible — create time and opportunity for people to contribute, use diverse teams for complex tasks rather than simple ones, reduce biases in recruiting and hiring, and establish policies and processes to enable diversity bonuses to occur. 

The world needs inclusive solutions and those can only be created if diverse perspectives are included in design processes. The world needs comprehensive, inclusive solutions that reflect our diverse population. Increasing diversity, inclusion, and equity in STEM is how we capture these diverse perspectives and make it happen. 

I don’t believe we yet understand the real potential of a fully represented Hispanic presence in STEM. In some ways, that is exciting. I am excited by the complex solutions that have yet to be explored, designed, tested, and improved. Hispanics are hard-working, persistent, resourceful, creative, and great collaborators with competitive spirits. The world needs us on their teams to solve the many complex problems we face. The future — our future — depends on it.

What would you say to any young Hispanic person that is looking to pursue a career in STEM?

The world needs you. Your unique background, experience, and perspective can offer or support solutions to many current-day and future challenges. An education and subsequent career in STEM will likely not be easy, but it will be worth it. 

There are many people out there who want to support you, so don’t be afraid to seek them out and ask for help. SHPE wants to see you succeed. I want to see you succeed. Your success will ensure not only your prosperity, but also that of your family, the Hispanic community, and — ultimately — our country and global economy. 

Your grit, resilience, resourcefulness, creativity and your one-of-a-kind perspective is so badly needed right now. I can’t wait to see what you’re going to do and how you will change the world. I know you can do this! Si puedes!

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