The national model of HESTEC (Hispanic Engineering, Science, and Technology) Week at The University of Texas-Pan American to encourage more students to pursue STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields was the focus of UTPA President Robert S. Nelsen's participation at the first Latino Education Conference on STEM April 1 in Washington, D.C.
Hosted by Latino Magazine, the conference, titled "Nuestro Futuro," focused on the urgent need nationally to encourage more students, particularly Hispanics, to pursue careers in the STEM fields.
Nelsen, the only higher education administrator invited to participate as a panelist, said the conference provided a wonderful opportunity to network with corporations and federal government representatives to let them know about the university and to forge possible partnerships to advance mutual goals.
"We were giving them the model of HESTEC as a perfect pipeline model," Nelsen said. "Industry and government representatives there are interested in our students. They are looking for brilliant minds. We have brilliant minds here. They are looking for diversity. We've got diversity here. They are looking for the opportunity to be in a fast growing region like South Texas."
The number of math and science-based careers available is outpacing the number of students graduating from those fields according to U.S. Labor Statistics cited by the National Education Association, a conference sponsor. Those statistics indicate jobs in STEM fields will grow approximately 22 percent from 2004 to 2014, requiring nearly two million new STEM professionals by 2010 to fill the void left by retiring baby boomers. Also, although 39 percent of the U.S. population of under age 18 is a racial minority, only 3.4 percent of the science and engineering jobs in 2000 were held by Latinos.
"Only 20 percent of the students who graduate from high school in this area end up in a four-year institution. We talked a lot about that and what we can do to increase those numbers," Nelsen said.
Nelsen said he came away from the conference with some new ideas, including building bridge programs to carry HESTEC through year round and developing strategies to reach parents and their children at the earlier stages of their development.
"One of the things I learned there is the importance of science literacy, not just literacy per se, but science literacy and engineering literacy. You have to get it down to the lower grades. If they aren't literate in science early on, then science is not an option for them," he said.
Latino Magazine editor Alfredo Estrada said UTPA was invited to participate because of the high number of graduates the University is producing, particularly in engineering, and the success over the years of HESTEC in increasing the appeal of STEM careers by students.
"Nelsen was the only university president here. I was very impressed. He told it like it is and gave people a very good perspective on HESTEC and where it is going. His presentation was very well received," said Estrada, who plans to host the conference again next year.
He said the magazine plans to provide a Web cast of the conference soon on Latino Magazine's Web site at www.latinomagazine.com. The magazine will also produce a White Paper on the conference that will be published in the May issue of the magazine's print edition, which has an average readership of more than 250,000.
"What we are trying to do is to communicate this to the Latino community through the magazine and the Web site. The real impact is going to be when this reaches the Latino community. That's what this conference was all about - to have an impact and really reach out to Latinos around the country," Estrada said.