Why Zendaya is Helping Bring Tech to Kids in Need
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Career-wise, Zendaya has pretty much done it all. On top of starring in and producing one of Disney Channel’s biggest shows ever, K.C. Undercover, Z has landed roles in two huge films (Spider-Man: Homecoming and The Greatest Showman on Earth), along with inking a record deal, designing her own fashion line, and starting her own Zendaya app. Whew!

But even as amazing opportunities have come her way, Z has always spoken out on behalf of others, whether she’s raising awareness of the water crisis in Michigan and the Black Lives Matter movement, or marching on Washington for women’s equality.

So in a very Zendaya move, she’s now partnering with Verizon’s #WeNeedMore campaign to bring technology and immersive hands-on learning to students in underserved communities across the country. The hope is that a more diverse wave of students will enter STEM fields and build brighter futures for themselves — and the world.

Seventeen.com sat for a Q&A with Zendaya to learn more about her personal connection to the campaign — and how she’s using technology to shine a light on issues that matter most to her.

What were your main reasons for getting involved with the #WeNeedMore campaign?

It’s something that I directly I connect to because it deals with children, education and technology. It’s something that my mother — a teacher who served in an underprivileged school with very little funding or resources for technology — did on her own. I really wish there had been a program like this when she was teaching in that school, because there are so many kids in need.

What makes the #WeNeedMore campaign special?

A lot of people glamorize being famous — an athlete or a singer. And that’s awesome and if you want to do that, sure. But a lot of kids don’t realize there are other options — that it’s possible for them to be an engineer or a sound technician. There are a gazillion different jobs out that the are creative, interesting, and different, and not every kid has to follow what they see in the media as cool jobs. Cool jobs, to me, are very different. So this is just opening their eyes and allowing these young people to have access to these resources so that they can see themselves in a different light.

How will you be working with Verizon to help students in underserved schools?

What they’re doing is getting technology into those schools. It’s a program that allows kids to have it in their hands so they explore it, use it, touch it in a tangible way. It’s a different, more creative way of learning — because the same way doesn’t always work for everyone. When my mother was teaching, she didn’t have a program like this. She implemented and brought tech into her school on her own, and it really helped her students. It helped them to learn how to use movie-editing software and put together projects in ways beyond writing an essay. There are so many ways to educate and to learn in this era, and we should take advantage of that.

Read Zendaya’s complete interview on Seventeen.

Inspiring the Next Generation of Hispanics in STEM
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Kenneth Armijo stands in front of a large power station

By Dr. Ken Armijo, systems engineer, Sandia National Laboratories

As a second-generation Hispanic growing up on a rural New Mexico farm, I was inspired by my parents and mentors to seek a college education. They understood the importance of education and the positive impact this would have on our culture and future agriculture in the community. Studies from the Pew Foundation have shown that second-generation Hispanics have higher attainment of college degrees by 36 percent, versus 29 percent for their first-generation parents, due in part to increased encouragement from their parents and access to educational resources throughout their entire education.

During my upbringing, I became acutely aware of the challenges and hardships that my relatives, friends and migrant workers (with whom I worked while at the University of California, Berkeley, conducting SEGURO research in California’s Central Valley) had to face when trying to attain the American dream in the United States.

As a result, my focus became clear: I needed an education to help inspire and mentor other Hispanic students as my parents did for me.

When I received my doctorate in mechanical engineering from the University of California, Berkeley, I was elated. However, at the same time, I was disappointed by the very low percentage of science and engineering doctorates that were awarded to Hispanics and other minorities from top 10 universities that year. This elucidation encouraged me, at the end of my UC Berkeley program, to make changes that were direly needed to promote diversity. I began facilitating STEM outreach programs to students in middle and high schools with high minority

enrollment. This experience had positive outcomes, enabling me to bring these educational programs to New Mexico when I started my tenure at Sandia.

Commitment to ‘Noche de Ciencias’

My colleagues and I at Sandia and other institutions (Intel, General Mills and the University of New Mexico) have created “Noche de Ciencias” (Science Nights) events for K-12th-grade students and their parents, to teach them about the value of getting an education, particularly a college degree in a STEM field. Many of these events have also brought together middle and high school students to interact with Hispanic engineering college students from UNM, Central New Mexico Community College and the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology. These events provide students with activities to encourage and excite their interest in STEM. At the same time, we conduct bilingual workshops for parents, emphasizing the value of college education for their children and how to receive financial assistance so that they can graduate with college STEM or vocational degrees.

Sandia for years has promoted diversity and STEM outreach. The resources provided by Sandia’s community involvement program have truly made a remarkable impact, ensuring that all populations, including Hispanics, women and other minorities from pre-K to doctorate, will receive the same opportunities in obtaining STEM degrees here in New Mexico.

Our consortium of industry and academic partners has also facilitated other STEM programs, giving students more opportunities than their families previously had. The group also sponsors activities that connect the sciences to students’ Hispanic heritage in unique ways.

Overall, it is vitally important that these efforts continue. They not only help to enrich our cultural heritage, but they also enhance the quality of our scientific community.

Dr. Kenneth Armijo is a systems engineering staff member who leads molten salt and molten alkali metals research and development at Sandia National Laboratories National Solar Thermal Test Facility (NSTTF). He holds a PhD in Mechanical Engineering from the University of California, Berkeley, with minors in Energy and Resources, and business credentials in Management of Technology from Berkeley’s Haas School of Business.

Photo Caption: Ken Armijo at Sandia’s National Solar Thermal Test Facility.

Photo Credit: UNM Alumni Association

NASA’s First Black Man to Arrive at Space Station for Long-term Stay
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NASA astronaut Victor Glover is seen during a NASA event where it was announced that he, and NASA astronaut Mike Hopkins are assigned to the first mission to the International Space Station onboard SpaceXs Crew Dragon

By Anna Sokiran

On November 17th, Victor Glover became the first African-American astronaut to begin a full six-month stay on the orbiting lab.

Victor is making history, joining the list of the Firsts Black Astronauts from NASA. The first-ever African-American man to join the NASA astronaut program was an Air Force test pilot Ed Dwight in 1961. He became the first astronaut candidate but never went to space. Guion S. Bluford Jr. was the first African-American in space in 1983, and Mae Jemison was the first African-American woman in 1992. In the past 20 years of people living on the International Space Station, the extended crew never included a black astronaut.

Along with other astronauts on SpaceX Crew Dragon, Victor Glover, will be staying on the I.S.S. for the next six months. Out of the 300 NASA astronauts to reach the International Space Station, he is not the first Black astronaut to visit the Station, 15th, to be exact. But he is the first one to stay on I.S.S. longer than a few weeks.

In 2021 Victor is likely to be followed by Jeanette Epps, who would be the first Black woman to become a member of the extended I.S.S. crew. Victor Glover is now the pilot and second-in-command on the capsule, named Resilience. In the next six months, he will be fulfilling the duties of the Flight Engineer.

NASA finally certified SpaceX to fly astronauts on its Crew Dragon spaceship, just days before its next launch
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Four Space X astronauts seated in SpaceX's Crew Dragon

SpaceX is about to launch four astronauts in the first human-rated commercial spacecraft.

This won’t be SpaceX’s first human mission. The NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley climbed aboard the company’s Crew Dragon spaceship this summer, rocketed into Earth’s orbit, and docked to the International Space Station. After two months of living and working at the space station, they climbed back into the Crew Dragon, screamed through the atmosphere, and safely parachuted back to Earth.

But that whole mission was considered a demo — a critical step for gaining NASA’s human-spaceflight certification.

On Tuesday, NASA announced it had finally certified SpaceX’s whole launch system for human spaceflight.

That decision was the result of the agency’s flight-readiness review, in which experts and officials spent two days reviewing SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket, the Crew Dragon spaceship, the software, and mission operations.

The certification came just days before SpaceX’s next planned astronaut launch, which is scheduled for Saturday. The company has already perched a new Crew Dragon on the rocket in preparation for that mission, its longest and most critical yet. Called Crew-1, the round-trip mission to the space station is the first of six that Elon Musk’s rocket company has contracted with NASA.

“People tend to think it’s just the spacecraft, but it’s the spacecraft, it’s the launch vehicle, it’s all the processing on the ground, it’s how you do your mission operations. All that will safely fly our crew up to the International Space Station and back and then recover,” Kathy Lueders, who leads NASA’s human-spaceflight program, said in a Tuesday press briefing. “You’ve shown us the data, and we trust you to do that. It’s a big trust factor here.”

If weather permits, SpaceX’s Falcon 9 will launch the Crew Dragon into space on Saturday at 7:49 p.m. ET. On board will be astronauts Mike Hopkins, Victor Glover, Shannon Walker, and Soichi Noguchi. They should dock to the space station eight and a half hours later, where they will stay for about six months, marking the longest human spaceflight in US history.

When it’s time to come home, the astronauts will climb back into the Crew Dragon, which will remain attached to the space station during their stay, then weather a fiery fall through Earth’s atmosphere.

“The crew’s lives are in our hands — very important responsibility,” Lueders said.

Continue on to Business Insider to read the full article. 

Photo Credit: Space X via NASA

First Passengers Travel Safely on a Hyperloop
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Josh Giegel and Sara Luchian aboard the Virgin hyperloop

Transportation history was made today in the Nevada desert, where Virgin Hyperloop tested human travel in a hyperloop pod for the first time.

“For the past few years, the Virgin Hyperloop team has been working on turning its ground breaking technology into reality,” said Sir Richard Branson, Founder of the Virgin Group. “With today’s successful test, we have shown that this spirit of innovation will in fact change the way people everywhere live, work, and travel in the years to come.”

Josh Giegel, Co-Founder and Chief Technology Officer, and Sara Luchian, Director of Passenger Experience, were the first people in the world to ride on this new form of transportation. The test took place at Virgin Hyperloop’s 500 meter DevLoop test site in Las Vegas, where the company has previously run over 400 un-occupied tests.

“When we started in a garage over 6 years ago, the goal was simple – to transform the way people move,” said Josh Giegel, Co-Founder and Chief Technology Officer of Virgin Hyperloop. “Today, we took one giant leap toward that ultimate dream, not only for me, but for all of us who are looking towards a moonshot right here on Earth.”

The occupants made their maiden voyage on the newly-unveiled XP-2 vehicle, designed by BIG – Bjarke Ingels Group and Kilo Design, which was custom-built with occupant safety and comfort in mind. While the production vehicle will be larger and seat up to 28 passengers, this 2-seater XP-2 vehicle was built to demonstrate that passengers can in fact safely travel in a hyperloop vehicle.

“Hyperloop is about so much more than the technology. It’s about what it enables,” said Sara Luchian, Director of Passenger Experience for Virgin Hyperloop. “To me, the passenger experience ties it all together. And what better way to design the future than to actually experience it first-hand?”

Sultan Ahmed Bin Sulayem, Chairman of Virgin Hyperloop, watched this historic passenger testing first-hand.

“I had the true pleasure of seeing history made before my very eyes – to witness the first new mode of mass transportation in over 100 years come to life,” said Sultan Ahmed Bin Sulayem, Chairman of Virgin Hyperloop and Group Chairman and CEO of DP World. “I have always had tremendous faith in the team at Virgin Hyperloop to transform this technology into a safe system, and today we have done that. We are one step closer to ushering in a new era of ultra-fast, sustainable movement of people and goods.”

The testing campaign, from the beginning stages all the way through to today’s successful demonstration, was overseen by the industry-recognized Independent Safety Assessor (ISA) Certifer. Having undergone a rigorous and exhaustive safety process, the XP-2 vehicle demonstrates many of the safety-critical systems that will be found on a commercial hyperloop system and is equipped with a state-of-the-art control system that can detect off-nominal states and rapidly trigger appropriate emergency responses.

Continue on to Virgin Hyperloop to read the full press release

Photo Credit: Virgin Hyperloop

 

Atlanta-based edtech startup uses pop songs to tackle students’ fear of math
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A little girl doing homework and listening to music

By Erin Schilling of the Business Journals (Atlanta) 

Marcus Blackwell Jr. always struggled with math in school. Instead of algebra equations, he preferred practicing gospel and classical jazz music on the piano. But during his sophomore year at Morehouse College, he realized just how intertwined the two subjects are.

“You cannot do music without understanding math, whether you’re talking about rhythm, reading sheet music, time signatures — all math,” Blackwell said.

Blackwell overcame his intimidation of numbers when he saw its similarity with music, so much so that he pivoted to a math degree.

Once equipped with the numerical expertise to match his musical acumen, Blackwell founded Make Music Count, an education tech startup app that uses a virtual keyboard and popular songs to teach students math equations.

‘Educational reform’

The app has equations that coincide with curriculum for K-12th grades. Students solve an equation at the top of the screen to find out which note they need to play next to complete the song. Blackwell included all types of genres, including the latest pop and hip-hop songs, so students would be excited to learn the notes.

“We believe that part of the reason why students aren’t performing is because they don’t see themselves in lessons,” Blackwell said. “So our approach of using songs that are familiar to them — that they hear on the radio and listen to at home — is a way to increase retention and engagement in learning.”

Blackwell recently received $50,000 from Google for Startups Black Founders Fund, which he said he’ll use for marketing and advertisements for the app. He just completed Cox Enterprise’s Social Impact Accelerator Powered By Techstars program this year to better his business model.

Blackwell has a national partnership with the Boys and Girls Club as well as local school district partnerships. The app can be used in either music or math classrooms, he said, but one of his biggest challenges has been integrating the technology into school curriculums.

“We’re talking about educational reform,” Blackwell said. “People that create curriculum don’t look like me in most cases, so it’s been tough sometimes to get people to give us a chance.”

Continue to Business Journals: AtlantaInno to read the full article. 

Six Apps that Help you Stick to a Budget
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A cartoon of six smart phone being held by a group of hands, displaying various screens

In these days of furloughs, layoffs, and shortened hours, when many people are struggling to pay their rent, figure out how to manage their bills, and looking askance at their college loans, it can help to have a solid financial app to assess your situation, create a budget, figure out exactly what you can (or can’t) afford, work with those pesky and confusing figures, find a better way to save, or just keep from panicking.

We asked four staff members from The Verge to talk about what they used to keep financially sane, and here’s what they recommended.

Buxfer: All Around Accounting

First of all, I need to admit that I monitor my finances in an absurdly old-fashioned way. I don’t use an app that downloads all of my accounts and tracks everything for me (although I have played around with Mint a bit). Instead, I enter all of my expenses and income manually into my accounting software and then check off which expenses have cleared at the end of the month. That way, I can “pay” many of my bills ahead of time by entering them before the payments are actually made and end up with a much clearer picture of how much cash I’ll have available afterward.

For years, I used native accounting software that just sat on my personal computer, like Microsoft Money. In fact, I held on to Money for several years after Microsoft sunsetted it but still kept it available as a download. (Thank you for that, Microsoft!) However, I found out how much of a mistake that was the day my computer decided to (figuratively) crash and burn. I had a backup, so I wasn’t in much trouble — except I decided I didn’t want to be dependent on a backup. I wanted to be able to access my data from the cloud, so I could access it from a computer or from my phone. However, I still enter it manually.

It took a while, but I found Buxfer. This personal accounting software is simple to learn, easy to use, and flexible enough so that, while it will happily download all of your data for you, it will also let you manually enter your expenses and income (something most other current accounting apps do not). Buxfer does pretty much everything more well-known accounting apps do: it downloads your accounts (if you want it to), tracks your budget, lets you know how you’re doing using charts and tables, follows your investments, and lets you set goals for, say, saving up for a home or paying down a credit card. It even lets you split bills with a spouse or a roommate, so you can track who is paying for what.

If you only need something to manually add expenses and income to, Buxfer is free to use. If you want more sophisticated features — like, for example, automatic syncing with your bank and credit card accounts or automatic tagging of your accounts (so you can easily find “utilities” or “mortgage”) — then a “Pilot” account costs $2 / month. The cost increases up to $10 a month, depending on how many features you need.

I really like Buxfer. It has a clean, understandable interface; lets you choose how many of your features you want to use (and lets you ignore the others); and doesn’t bother you with intrusive ads — even on the free version. And although I was using the free version, when I had a question, I got a prompt reply to my email. Buxfer may not be as well-known as Quicken or YNAB, but it’s certainly worth checking out. —Barbara Krasnoff, reviews editor

Credit Karma:  Keep your Data Secure

A couple of years ago, I needed to find a company (cheap or free) that I could use for identity monitoring, and someone at work recommended Credit Karma. I soon found out that, in signing up for Credit Karma, I was signing up for much more than just identity monitoring.

Credit Karma watches all of your accounts for possible data breaches, monitors your credit standing and notifies you when it changes and why, and helps you to do things like lock your credit so that it’s harder for somebody to open an account in your name, among other services. It also offers links to information about buying a home, buying or leasing a car, paying down an overdrawn credit card, and other financial services. There is an entire section on financial relief, which could be very useful for those impacted by the current situation.

The site makes a variety of suggestions for low-interest credit cards, loans, and other financial instruments. Of course, these suggestions aren’t given strictly out of the kindness of its heart — you know that Credit Karma is getting compensated if you take it up on any of its offers — but I’ve checked out a few of its deals, and most of them aren’t bad. For example, one of their savings accounts offered considerably more interest than my local bank, without charging anything extra. (Unfortunately, when interest rates began to dive, the usefulness of that particular account dove with it.)

Unlike most of the other apps mentioned here, Credit Karma will not help you pay your bills or track your bank account. But it does offer some really useful information and services, and while I don’t check it more than once a month or so, I find it helps me make sure my finances are safe and on the right track. —Barbara Krasnoff

Continue to The Verge to read the full article

Meet Three Female STEM Leaders Disrupting The Food & Beverage Industry
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three women STEM leaders pictured in collage portrait

The number of female executives in the food and beverage industry is shockingly low, especially when compared to other industries. Only 16 percent of executives in food and beverage manufacturing are female, as opposed to 21 percent across all industries.

SōRSE Technology–the leading cannabis and CBD emulsion supplier for CPGs and other food, beverage, and topical manufacturers–has bucked this unfortunate trend with a strong female leadership presence.

Three of these powerful and innovative female STEM leaders who are disrupting the food and beverage industry are:

Donna Wamsley, pictured bottom, Director of Research and Analytics and expert flavorist. Ever wonder who designs food and drink flavors to hit those taste cells in just the right way? None other than one of only a few hundred flavorists in the world. Donna brings over 12 years of experience in the food and beverage industry. She can discuss what it’s like being one of the world’s few hundred flavorists, the qualities she looks for when analyzing ingredients, and 2020’s most popular flavor trends.

Michelle Sundquist, pictured right, Director of Innovation Product Design. At SōRSE, Michelle uses cutting-edge ingredient emulsification to develop products never thought possible. With over 20 years of expertise in the psychology behind food and beverage marketing, Michelle can give an in-depth look at launching high-quality foods and beverages, along with the techniques that bars, restaurants, and stores can use to make their drinks stand out in a crowded market.

Maribeth O’Connor, pictured left, VP of Medical Application, Business and Product Development. Maribeth brings over 30 years of experience to SōRSE and has experience working in business development and marketing for the University of Washington School of Medicine. She has also worked as a federal healthcare lobbyist for Group Health Cooperative. Maribeth is currently working in partnership with Pascal Biosciences and UW Sports Medicine in conducting research studies to validate proven cannabinoid therapies in cancer and osteoarthritis. She is also pursuing other research opportunities around the globe.

Donna, Michelle, and Maribeth are three of the amazing and hardworking women in their industry. They draw on their unique skillsets and experience from their colleagues at SōRSE and are breaking new ground in a nascent industry. They have, and continue to, contribute immensely to making the cannabis and CBD industry the success story that it is today and in the future. Finally, they are an inspiration to the women that will continue to populate the executive ranks.

To Build Less-Biased AI, Hire a More-Diverse Team
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A group of diverse engineers huddled around a project

By Michael Li

We’ve seen no shortage of scandals when it comes to AI. In 2016, Microsoft Tay, an AI bot built to learn in real time from social media content turned into a misogynist, racist troll within 24 hours of launch. 

A ProPublica report claimed that an algorithm — built by a private contractor — was more likely to rate black parole candidates as higher risk. A landmark U.S. government study reported that more than 200 facial recognition algorithms — comprising a majority in the industry — had a harder time distinguishing non-white faces. The bias in our human-built AI likely owes something to the lack of diversity in the humans who built them. After all, if none of the researchers building facial recognition systems are people of color, ensuring that non-white faces are properly distinguished may be a far lower priority.

Sources of Discrimination in the AI and Technology Fields

Technology has a remarkably non-diverse workforce. A 2019 study found that under 5.7% of Google employees were Latinx, and 3.3% were Black. Similarly low rates exist across the tech industry. And those numbers are hardly better outside the tech industry, with Latinx and Black employees making up just 7% and 9%, respectively, of STEM workers in the general economy. (They comprise 18.5% and 13.4%, respectively, of the U.S. population.) Data science is a special standout — by one estimate, it underrepresents women, Hispanics, and Blacks more than any other role in the tech industry. It may come as no surprise that a 2019 study by the non-profit Female Founders Faster Forward (F4) found that 95% of surveyed candidates reported facing discrimination in the workplace. With such a biased workforce, how can we expect our AI to fare any better?

Sources of bias in hiring abound. Some of this comes from AI. Amazon famously had to scrap its AI recruiting bot when the company discovered it was biased against women. And it’s not just tech titans: LinkedIn’s 2018 Global Recruiting Trends survey found that 64% of employers use AI and data in recruiting, including top employers like Target, Hilton, Cisco, PepsiCo, and Ikea. But we cannot entirely blame AI —­ there is a much deeper and more systemic source of hiring bias. An established field of academic research suggests that human resume screening is inherently biased. Using innovative field experiments, university researchers have shown that resume screeners discriminate on the basis of race, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, and age. Discrimination is so prevalent that minorities often actively whiten resumes (and are subsequently more successful in the job market). Scanning resumes, whether by computer or human, is an archaic practice best relegated to the dustbin of history. At best, it measures a candidate’s ability to tactfully boast about their accomplishments and, at worse, provides all the right ingredients for either intentional or unintentional discrimination. So how are companies overcoming this challenge?

A Musical Interlude

An unlikely parallel exists in — of all places — the field of classical music. In the 1970s and 1980s, historically male-dominated orchestras began changing their procedures for hiring. Auditions were conducted blind — placing a screen between the candidate and their judging committee so that the identity of the auditioner could not be discerned — only their music was being judged. The effects of this change were astounding: Harvard researchers found that women were passing 1.6 times more in blind auditions than in non-blind ones, and the number of female players in the orchestras increased by 20 to 30 percentage points. By focusing on the candidate’s performance (rather than irrelevant discriminatory attributes) companies can increase both diversity and quality of their new hires. Here’s how.

Continue on to Harvard Business Review to read the full article.

NASA astronaut has a message for Latinx STEM students: ‘We need you’
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Ellen Ochoa training with NASA

By Penelope Lopez of ABC 

Astronaut Ellen Ochoa has a message for the next generation of Latinx students who are aspiring to work in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) fields: “We need you.”

“We need your minds. We need your creativity,” she told ABC News.

Ochoa, a first generation Mexican-American, made history in the Latinx community as NASA’s first Hispanic astronaut. She took her first space flight aboard the space shuttle Discovery in 1993. She was also the first Hispanic director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center and spent nearly 1,000 hours in space during four shuttle missions.

As the chair of the National Science Board, Ochoa is constantly championing a more inclusive work environment.

“Look at the demographics of our country. They are changing … we have to involve the people in our country. And increasingly, of course, that is people of some kind of Latino or Hispanic heritage,” she said.

For young Latinx students, working in the STEM fields is no longer something out of reach.

“STEM fields offer a unique opportunity to change the world, one person at a time,” said India Carranza, a first generation Puerto Rican and Salvadorian high school junior who aspires to be a physiotherapist. “And being able to help people through their paths and different journeys is one of the unique opportunities of the STEM field.”

Today, Latinx individuals make up nearly 20% of the U.S population and yet just 7% of the STEM workforce.

Continue to ABC News to read the full article 

How LGBT+ scientists would like to be included and welcomed in STEM workplaces
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A group of diverse scientists studying a skeleton

‘Invisible’: that is how many scientists from sexual and gender minorities (LGBT+) describe their status at their institution, laboratory, classroom or office.

Sexual orientation and sexual and gender identity are not common topics of conversation in many science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) workplaces, and these scientists argue that they should be. They say that cloaking an important part of their identity at work can have dangerous consequences for mental health and career advancement, both for individual scientists and for the disciplines that could drive them away.

Surveys back up this sense of invisibility. Beliefs that being cisgender and hetero-sexual are the default or ‘normal’ modes — known as cis-heteronormative assumptions — often silence conversations about the wide spectrum of sexual and gender identities1. In a 2019 survey of more than 1,000 UK-based physical scientists, nearly 30% of LGBT+ scientists and half of transgender scientists said that they had considered leaving their workplace because of an unfriendly or hostile climate or because of discrimination2. And nearly 20% of LGBT+ chemists and 32% of transgender and non-binary scientists across all disciplines had experienced exclusionary, offensive or harassing behaviour at work in the previous year. About half of the respondents agree that there is an overall lack of awareness of LGBT+ issues in the workplace. And a 2016 study found that LGBT+ undergraduate students are 7% less likely to be retained in STEM fields than are their non-LGBT+ counterparts3.

Many institutions and funding agencies do not collect data on sexual orientation and gender identity. For example, the US National Science Foundation is still considering whether it should include such questions in its Survey of Earned Doctorates, years after announcing it intended to test the feasibility of doing so.

Nature spoke to six LGBT+ academics about the effects on their careers of fighting prejudice, assumptions and bias; how colleagues can be effective allies and advocates; and what policies institutions could have to make STEM workplaces more inclusive.

Hontas Farmer: Break with Convention

Hontas Farmer (she) is a Black, transgender theoretical physicist and a lecturer at Elmhurst University in Illinois.

I haven’t followed a conventional academic career path. Between the ages of 18 and 33, I took out staggering amounts of government and private student loans to get my undergraduate and master’s degrees in physics and, like many trans women my age, supported myself with sex work. We do that to survive.

Scientists should be aware that colleagues can have vastly different backgrounds and experiences. I’m 40 now, and still in debt. For now, I can make it as an adjunct — a part-time, contract faculty member — in physics, while I research theories to unify general relativity and quantum mechanics on the side. I’m also a part of the Laser Interferometer Space Antenna (LISA), a volunteer-powered collaboration between NASA and the European Space Agency researching gravitational waves. I don’t get paid for this work.

If I weren’t so driven, I might have quit physics and returned to being a sex worker. Or I might be dead: many trans women of colour wind up dead before the age of 35. Given that working as an adjunct was financially precarious even before the pandemic, I might still go back to my earlier job. The ability to pay your bills can determine whether or not you have a career in science.

Professors also help to shape your career path. Allies should offer interested students similar academic and professional opportunities, irrespective of their gender identities or backgrounds. I could not get the recommendation letter that I needed to apply for a PhD programme. The professor said that they did not think I could get a job. “You’re too eccentric to be you, and be a physicist — you have to be overwhelmingly great, and you’re not,” they told me.

That made me angry at the time, but now I think in some ways they were right. Not everyone gets to be a full-time tenure-track professor, especially in today’s job market. But I still wish that I’d had the option to get the degree.

I’ve given up on pursuing a PhD, but I still get to do work similar to that of PhD physicists. When I applied to join LISA, they accepted me because of my research in general relativity. And they treat me just like anybody else. That is the most inclusive thing allies can do.

Teaching has been less ideal. I wish I could have had realistic and frank discussions with some of my former school administrators and colleagues about what I faced as a trans faculty member. For example, when I asked questions to engage my classes, some students complained to the dean’s office that I did not know the material. They thought I was asking them questions because I needed their help solving the equations. I wish the school had expressed more confidence in my qualifications — why they hired me in the first place — when they addressed the students’ concerns. Supportive employers show respect for your work and credentials.

In academia, people often assume that all students are open-minded and accepting. Not everyone under the age of 25 is liberal. Some students expect to see an LGBT+ person teaching gender studies or social work, but not Newton’s laws. These days, students have a lot of power over faculty members, whose part-time numbers are increasing, through their evaluations. If too few students sign up for your classes, the course gets cancelled and you don’t have a job. This is why it is so important for institutions to make space for conversations about how students’ biases can affect LGBT+ teachers.

This August, I started teaching at Elmhurst University in Illinois, in a small community that I’ve found supportive despite its politically conservative reputation. It’s sort of counterintuitive, but I’m confident that a conservative school will stand behind me, because they hired me for my credentials. Be open to finding acceptance anywhere.

Continue to Nature.com to read the full article.

Air Force Civilian Service

Air Force Civilian Service

Robert Half