Integrating the humanities, social impact and individual expression into STEM education is the only way to improve inclusion in the STEM industries, says Archika Dogra.
As I stood with 25 other young education activists and leaders from all corners of the globe in the Qatar National Convention Center, one thing was evident: In virtually every country, the right to an equal education for all has yet to be met. However, looking around the room of young changemakers, I knew that we had the passion, commitment and know-how to change that.
From technological illiteracy in rural regions to gender inequities in schooling, both inside and outside the classroom there is a great deal of work to be done to make education, especially in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), accessible and valuable to all.
Last November, I flew into Doha, Qatar for the World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE), joining a cohort of youth fellows hailing from all over the world, from Brazil to Tanzania, all working on impactful education-related projects. Damien, from Nigeria, was teaching STEM concepts with comic books. Souyeth, from Cambodia, was piloting a program combining technical education with soft skills. Malaika, from Pakistan, was actively working at the intersection of children’s safety and app development. Everyone had completely different yet innovative approaches while working towards the same goals of equity and inclusivity.
WISE reminded me of the importance of the youth perspective in deconstructing the traditional and inaccessible status quo of education.
The Homogeneity of STEM education
I myself had come out of the past three years grappling with similar thematic issues within education, particularly the homogeneity of STEM education in the United States. Homogeneity in representation, with students from minority socioeconomic, racial, and gender backgrounds disproportionately excluded from these classrooms. Homogeneity in learning, with an enormous lack in intersectional, project-based, and socially-minded STEM education. Homogeneity in perspective, with students constrained by formulas and algorithms as opposed to being nurtured with the foundations of boundless innovation and impact.
In the USA, millions of students miss out on one of the most important forms of literacy in the 21st century: digital and scientific literacy. With these inequities disproportionately affecting minority students, we see the pipeline effect clearly: 84% of working professionals in science and engineering jobs are white or Asian males. Along with inaccessibility, one of the strongest reasons cited by women, racial minorities, and socioeconomically disadvantaged youths for not pursuing STEM careers is that they lack “a sense of belonging.”
A sense of belonging. A sense of self.
As a woman in STEM, I wrestled with this question myself: how can we create learning spaces where students recognise and feel empowered by the inevitable role that STEM plays in their lives?
In 2017, I started teaching STEM workshops, along with two other girls, at a local community centre to just 5 students. Today, four years later, I run Innoverge, an international youth-led organisation serving young people from underrepresented backgrounds worldwide through STEMxHumanities education, programs, and resources. At Innoverge, our goal is to capture the story behind every student – specifically the why that motivates them to create and innovate. By connecting coding with intersectional politics and engineering with nonprofits, students conceptualise and create STEM solutions to issues that represent who they are and what they stand for. As a youth-led team in 11 different countries, Innoverge has worked with over 5,000 students spanning 200 free social-impact focused events, workshops, and programs.
The fellows I met at WISE in Qatar shared and embodied the core of Innoverge’s mission: to combine empathy with education, projecting people’s own stories into initiatives that help change the world.
Making STEM work for everyone and ensuring anyone can work in STEM
So, how can we collectively fix the broken pipeline of STEM education in the United States? How can we empower young people to catalyse positive change? The first step is accessibility. It is integral to continue promoting and enabling free STEM opportunities in rural, underserved, and under-resourced areas. But, once you have everyone in the classroom, the next step is inclusivity. By combining the humanities, social impact, and individual expression with STEM skills, we hold the means to encourage young people to be in the driver’s seat of their own ambitions, equipped with the tools they need to create a positive impact.
Archika Dogra is a freshman at Princeton University and the Founder of Innoverge , an award-winning international nonprofit empowering students from underrepresented backgrounds with STEMxHumanities education, reaching 5,000+ youths across 11 countries. She is passionate about educational equity, human-centered innovation, and computing for social impact. Alongside outreach, she has interned under NASA, University of Washington, and Sensoria Health. Archika is a 2019 Global Teen Leader and International Mars Generation 24 under 24. For inquiries regarding Innoverge or Archika, reach out to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.