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STEM and Workforce Development – A Ticket Out of Poverty

February 19, 2016

By Emily Elliott, Executive Director of Heart Math Tutoring

Financial services and technology firms are noting the need for diversity by race and gender. According to this article, by Michael Bodson, President and CEO of DTCC, Black and Hispanic students combined account for only 7% of math and computer science graduate students, yet substantial math and technology skills are required for two-thirds of jobs in banking and finance.

More broadly than financial services, studies show that people of color make up 10% of all STEM jobs despite making up over a quarter of the U.S. population. Tracing this disparity back to high school, The College Board found that only 3 in 10 African Americans take AP Math, and half of those who do not take it report lacking the confidence to do so.


Of Heart’s approximately 400 students in the 2015/16 school year, 55% are female and almost all are Black (58%) or Hispanic (38%). Our hope would be that their time with tutors gives them not only the skills needed for success in higher levels of math, but also the confidence and encouragement to pursue challenging work that involves math, whether tied directly to the STEM field or not. Indeed 97% of students have met program growth goals in math to date, and more than 90% of teachers report that students show increased confidence and/or enthusiasm towards math as a result of the program.


Research shows that the average salary for STEM careers is $53,000; half of those jobs do not require a four-year degree. Several of Heart’s funding partners attest to job opportunities at their companies here in Charlotte immediately following high school and/or trade school if a person can demonstrate proficiency in algebra and trigonometry, evaluated by industry-specific exams such as the Construction and Skilled Trades (CAST) Test.

At Heart, we know that students must be numerically powerful far before entering their first algebra class and that arithmetic can be taught in a way that supports algebraic thinking later on.

Difficulties with math start as early as elementary school and younger, and they are often related to a lack of true understanding of how our number system works: quantity, groups, base ten and place value. Instead, many students rely on memorized rules and procedures. This is disempowering, with life-long consequences not only for opportunities directly tied to math skills, but also for a person’s ability to think and reason logically to figure out the world around them.

STEM careers can truly be a ticket out of poverty, but we must equip people of color in early years with the necessary skills and beliefs to be able to take advantage of this growing area of opportunity.

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Statistics and research cited in the post above comes from: The National Science Foundation, Science & Engineering Indicators, 2013; The College Board, 2012; Brookings Institution, The Hidden STEM Economy, 2013; Carpenter, Frank, Levi, 2003; Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning at West Ed, 2012.

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