Hispanic Heritage Month

It’s National Hispanic Heritage Month. This year’s celebration of Hispanic and Latinx culture runs from September 15 to October 15, 2018. I hope that your classroom celebrates the scientific, technological, and engineering accomplishments of Hispanic and other underrepresented populations, like African-Americans and women, all year long and not just during designated months.

Still, special awareness months can remind us all that our present-day STEM knowledge and accomplishments rest on the shoulders of a diverse population. That's not always communicated n traditional textbooks. We need to work hard to ensure that every child can be a STEM Star.

The more than 11 million Hispanic students in public school across the country represent the largest single minority block. When I wrote about Hispanic Heritage Month last year, I included some statistics about the underrepresentation of Hispanic students in STEM. It’s probably no surprise that we’ve still got work to do.

One thing that has changed since 2017 is that Merriam-Webster has added the word “Latinx” to its famed dictionary. It's defined as “of, relating to, or marked by Latin American heritage —used as a gender-neutral alternative to Latino or Latina.”

Nurturing the Next Generation

I talked with a colleague who is on the front lines of nurturing the next generation of Hispanic STEM talent in higher education. Veronica I. Arreola is the director of the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Latin@s Gaining Access to Networks for Advancement in Science, or L@s GANAS.

L@s GANAS is funded by a federal grant designed to boost Latinx involved in STEM. It was funded to increase UIC's capacity to support Latinx students who are majoring in STEM. But the program reaches well beyond campus. “We support students through a number of initiatives including working with students in their high schools and two-year schools, peer mentoring, and a research fellowship,” Arreola told me.

When asked how teachers of younger Latinx students can support STEM achievement she replied, “Teachers need to let all children be curious about science. For Latinx students, I suggest looking into how to connect the curriculum to student's cultural heritage. It takes a bit of digging, but you can find ways to make things tangible. A good example is food science. Recent super foods are heritage foods for some people.”

Supporting Students

You can find additional inspiration and resources on the National Hispanic Heritage month site, the Smithsonian Latino Collection and a collection of federal agencies.

“In terms of teachers needing support to keep their student's interest in STEM,” Arreola continued, “I suggest organizations like Project Lead the Way and the American Association of University Women. They have great resources that outline why it is important to support students and outline the problems.”

She added, “In terms of learning more about supporting Latinx students, I highly suggest Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science and Latina Girls Code.”

And, of course, the Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge is a wonderful way for students from all backgrounds to build their STEM skills and interests. It’s easy to enter. Students only need is good idea, a brief video, and the permission of a parent or guardian. The entry period for the 2019 Challenge will begin in just a few months.