of a java programmer with a bachelor’s degree and an academic biomedical researcher with a doctorate are very different paths even though we collectively group them as within the term STEM “pathway.”

To assess the journey of underrepresented minorities in STEM education, a review of what it takes to become a scientist or engineer can set up a framework for understanding how to help underrepresented minorities navigate whatever STEM pathway they are on. While a set of pathways may be difficult to describe in detail, there are nonetheless ingredients for success in STEM that can be discussed, principally:

  • The acquisition of knowledge, skills, and habits of mind;

  • Opportunities to put these into practice;

  • A developing sense of competence, confidence, and progress;

  • Motivation to be in, a sense of belonging to, or self-identification with the field; and

  • Information about stages, requirements, and opportunities.

These ingredients are present and require attention in some measure at every stage along the STEM educational continuum. Later, as one gets closer to entering the workforce, an additional ingredient may be a sense that, in a practical manner, the demands and benefits of the profession fit with one’s lifestyle (e.g., provide a desired income level or work-life balance).


Knowledge, skills, and habits of mind are developed over time. Children enter elementary school as capable and generally enthusiastic science learners. Taking Science to School shows that children bring capabilities and prior knowledge that are “a resource that can and should be accessed and built upon during science instruction.”1 Cognitive researchers have determined that even young children in kindergarten possess strong reasoning skills. In combination with the knowledge already gained from their experiences and interactions with the natural world around them, this reasoning ability can be funneled into constructive science learning when in school. This science learning, then, should develop over the course of years in elementary and secondary school and postsecondary education as a “learning progression.” Such a progression can be based on vertically articulated curricula in which units in higher grades build on units and concepts learned in the lower grades.2 “Meaningful science learning takes time and learners need


National Research Council. 2007.Taking Science to School: Learning and Teaching Science in Grades K-8. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.


J. Bruner. 1977. The Process of Education. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, MA.

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