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U.S. Department of Health and Human Services


Success Starts with STEM: Diversity in Education & Leadership Development

Author: ASPR/OPP Division of Policy and Strategic Planning
Published Date: 2/24/2017 10:42:00 AM
Category: National Health Security; Public Health Preparedness; Observances;

Students who focus on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) aren’t just starting a great career path – they are also strengthening the future of national health security. Studying STEM subjects provides a foundation for community health resilience and disaster preparedness skills. But according to the U.S. Department of Education, African-American students are underrepresented in STEM programs, with African-American students obtaining just 7.6 percent of STEM bachelor’s degrees and 4.5 percent of doctorates in a STEM-related field.

That’s a serious problem for students, communities and national health security.

As the end of Black History Month approaches, it is important to emphasize the value of bringing more African-American students to STEM education. If we want to be able to offer services that are culturally and linguistically appropriate to our communities, then we need to support future national health security leaders who reflect the diverse populations comprising our communities. To achieve a diverse health security workforce, students from a range of cultural and linguistic backgrounds, as well as family compositions, socioeconomic statuses, and other factors all need to be accounted for in outreach and engagement.

Diversity is especially at the core of youth development and pipeline programs seeking to influence specific at-risk populations. In reaching those who may have unique needs in a disaster or emergency such as the elderly, disabled, or youth, students with connections to these groups can serve as “ambassadors” to bring effective leadership and change within their families and in their communities.

To create a culture that fosters resilience and health security and build a pathway for student success in these fields, here are three suggested strategies:

  1. Expand: Take advantage of existing programs and build on them to help train the next generation of health security and preparedness leaders.
  2. Inspire: Serve as supportive and reliable role models and mentors for STEM students, especially those living in underserved communities or representing at-risk populations.
  3. Evaluate: Find or develop evidence and metrics that show the outcome for health security engagement among students.

These three recommendations were developed by the ASPR Joint Youth Leadership Working Group, a collaboration of the National Preparedness and Response Science Board (NPRSB) and the National Advisory Committee on Children and Disasters (NACCD). Read the full joint NPRSB-NACCD Youth Leadership report for more information.

ASPR also provides a suite of resources for engaging students in national health security education and activities including fact sheets, brochures, and activity guides. Visit for more information on national health security.

We must ensure that efforts to develop the framework needed to strengthen national health security reach students of color. Increasing the availability of early learning opportunities in STEM and enhancing awareness of STEM careers is critical to realizing this goal.


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