By Mustafa Ersoy
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s support for turning the Buffalo Niagara region into a hub for nanotechnology is expected to bring more job opportunities into the region. However, the issue of educating qualified individuals for these high-tech jobs remains mostly unanswered.
Many stories document the need for the United States to maintain a leadership position in “STEM” education – science, technology, engineering and math. Yet, recent stories continue to point out how we lag behind other nations in educating young people in the STEM fields.
A recent Time magazine education summit panel reported that 20 percent of undergraduate college students in China last year were studying in the STEM fields, compared to 11 percent in Europe and only 4.4 percent in the United States.
STEM-related jobs are particularly important because of the ripple effect they have on the economy. According to Enrico Moretti, professor of economics at the University of California at Berkley, each new high-tech job in a city creates five additional jobs outside of high-tech fields in that city.
One emerging source gaining recognition for potential STEM opportunities is our growing minority communities. But while minority populations are increasing, no corresponding increase is found in the number of minority students pursuing STEM studies and careers. An example of how underrepresented minority populations are in science and technology fields was provided in a 2010 National Science Foundation study that found that in science and engineering fields, 69 percent of workers were white, 6 percent Hispanic, five percent black and only 1 percent American Indian or Pacific Islander.
Buffalo’s minority youth – featuring a vibrant mix of nationalities – represents a great opportunity for us as a city, state and country to do better to increase minority representation and achievement in the STEM fields.
Over the past nine years, we at the Buffalo Academy of Science Charter School have hosted annual science fairs to familiarize hundreds of minority students with scientific method and presentations skills that, combined with a rigorous curriculum, build a foundation for college and career achievement.
In addition to hosting the first Lego League Buffalo chapter in conjunction with a robust high school robotics program, the academy provides opportunities for Buffalo students to participate in Science Olympiad competitions.
Together, we need to nurture, support and advocate for Buffalo students. With a strong partnership of local universities and workforce, STEM-focus charter schools can be a promising option. Perhaps this partnership is the first giant step towards turning Buffalo-Niagara into a hub for nanotechnology in the future.
Mustafa Ersoy is director of the Buffalo Academy of Science Charter School.