Improving equity in STEM education for Canadians.

July 6, 2021 Penny Wise

Students working on a robot.

In 2021, with trust in science on the rise and the belief that science can help solve some of the world’s biggest problems – we all have a role to play to take real action in Canada.

For the last four years, the annual 3M State of Science Index has tracked and explored global attitudes toward science, taking the pulse on how people think and feel about the field and its impact on the world around us.

Every year, we’ve seen an increase in overall trust towards science, and while the pandemic has certainly heightened that sentiment, the data has consistently indicated the barriers to accessing STEM education are relatively undefined and a real issue in Canada. In fact, the 2021 3M State of Science Index results reveal that 68 per cent of Canadians acknowledge underrepresented minority groups often do not receive equal access to STEM education.1

This is an issue we care deeply about as a science company and are committed to taking actionable steps to address the STEM equity gap. While science can help solve some of the world’s biggest problems – we each have a role to play in inspiring lasting change. I believe that we can help create this change through listening to experts, harnessing their experiences, having transparent conversations, and putting our work into action.

3M STEMtalk: Building a path to equal access

I recently had the honour of hosting the 3M STEMtalk workshop with some of Canada’s leading advocates on STEM equity inclusive of educators, scientists, students, and the corporate world – to discuss and align on actions Canada can take to help make STEM education accessible for all.

I am humbled by the inspiring discussion and would like to thank the incredible cohort of experts who have dedicated their time, knowledge, and expertise to discuss real, actionable solutions to help remove barriers and enable access to STEM education in our country.3M STEMTalk particpants GIFEffective outcomes require disruption and diverse thinking, and this is only the beginning of what I hope to be a long term program. I also recognize the magnitude of change needed, and that there are systemic challenges that exist within our communities that may prevent access to STEM opportunities.  As a science company, I believe that we can add value by supporting the advocacy for disruption. By lifting strong Canadian voices, we can inspire real action, help normalize differences and build a path to equal access.

“Diverse perspectives are fundamental to the creation of ground-breaking solutions, and effective outcomes. The 3M STEMtalk workshop brought together voices that were inclusive of varying professional and personal lived experiences in STEM across varying age groups, ethnicities, accessibility, Indigenous and the LGBTQ+ community.” – Carrie Ramsay, 3M Canada Diversity and Inclusion Leader

Recommendations for Canada’s path forward on STEM equity

In listening to the 3M STEMtalk discussion, it was clear there are many barriers to STEM education, with some being specific to certain populations and some that are shared by underrepresented groups.

According to the 3M State of Science Index, 87 per cent of Canadians agree it’s important to increase diversity and inclusion in STEM jobs.1 As well, students would be more inspired to pursue STEM if they had a better understanding of the different career opportunities in science, and as a science company.

As we look towards creating a path to equitable access to STEM, I would like to share the below three recommendations for Canada from this workshop.

  1. Change the way STEM is taught and accessed in Canada

As a country we need to support and design an education system that is representative of diverse world views. For example, creating teaching materials and curriculum that is representative of our communities. This also includes finding solutions to remove gatekeeping such as economic barriers and making the “hidden curriculum” visible by ensuring lectures and labs are physically accessible or supporting student mental health.

“We need to recognize different frames of reference for creating teaching materials and design a system that supports and resonates with diverse world views,” said Doug Dokis, Actua’s Director, National Indigenous Youth in STEM Program. “For decades, STEM education has focused on western philosophies and perspectives. It’s time to rethink how we teach STEM to support all ways of thinking. For example, Actua’s National Indigenous Youth in STEM (InSTEM) program is grounded in Indigenous knowledge and Indigenous approaches to education and community engagement. This program, and others like it, empowers youth with a sense of belonging in STEM and the critical skills and confidence needed to achieve their full potential.”

  1. Move from role models to champions

We need to recognize diverse role models in our STEM community particularly for our youth and harness their potential and resources to become advocates for change within the community. It is only by lifting the voices of those who can inspire real action - that we can collectively move forward together.

“People at a young age, need to be able to see themselves reflected in the science community and have the champions in their life who support those goals. To do this we need to lead youth to show them the path to a career in STEM, that it is possible, that there are opportunities for people just like them and that there are supportive programs, educators and champions along the way who will help lift them to an endless array of possibilities,” said Vanessa Raquel Raponi, Founder of EngiQueers and Product Development Engineer.

  1. Shared responsibility to match words and actions

The Canadian business and political community share many ideas about inclusion, however collectively we need to find solutions that match what organizations are saying with what they are doing.

“Children and youth facing challenges of poverty and precarious housing have limited access to transportation, limited access to online sign-up opportunities as well as online content, and they struggle to see themselves longer-term taking up a space in post-secondary education or skilled/science fields of work. As a STEM community of businesses and organizations, we need to listen to young people, mobilize our collective resources and help drive forward solutions that provide equitable and accessible opportunities in STEM for all.”  - Jennepher Cahill, Director of Development, United Way Elgin

Activating this vision: our commitment to STEM equity   

Our 3M STEMtalk workshop is just the first step for us – I’m committed to putting our actions in place as quickly as possible to help contribute to the change that’s needed for equity in STEM education. Together, as a science company, we will harness our resources and strengths through industry partnerships and sponsorships to support the above recommendations and lift the strong Canadian voices to inspire real action. While I recognize that this journey may be uncomfortable at times – I’ve learned we must embrace the discomfort and listen to the experts to build effective outcomes.  

As part of our initial actions following the workshop, we have developed the following commitments which we expect will continue to evolve as we listen and learn from our communities. We remain deeply committed on activating these commitments with a long-term view to improving equity in STEM education.

We have established a 3M Advocacy Fund - to provide financial support to organizations and people who are working on removing hidden barriers and providing solutions to address STEM equity. We heard from the workshop that gatekeeping and economic barriers can significantly impact access to STEM education, and we want to help to address this by providing funds to those who are dedicated to solving for this.

Secondly, we will be hosting a series of 3M STEMtalk workshops with peer companies, and subject matter experts to unite our efforts and continue to identify real solutions.  

We also understand that it is critically important for all Canadians to see themselves reflected in the science community and communicate in a way and in a place that resonates with them. To that end, 3M will be establishing an advisory committee to help guide investments and future programs.

As a science company – data-driven insights remain core to the work that we do. From the workshop, we heard the need for deeper and more targeted Canadian data to help identify gaps and opportunities for STEM equity.

I recognize that there is so much more we can do and that we all have a role to play. I look forward to sharing the progress we hope to make in Canada and I’m calling on you to join us on this important journey. 

 

References.

1. https://www.3m.com/3M/en_US/state-of-science-index-survey/ 

About the Author

Penny Wise

[enBio=Penny has more than 20 years of global brand and marketing experience, including Global Marketing Director of 3M’s Safety and Industrial Business Group, its largest business based at 3M global headquarters in St. Paul, Minnesota. Penny also led 3M’s 2015 global rebrand: “Science. Applied to Life.™” She started her career at 3M Canada in 2000 and in January 2020 moved back to Canada to take on the role of President. ],[enJob=President, 3M Canada],[frBio=Penny possède plus de 20 ans d’expérience en marque et en marketing à l’échelle mondiale, y compris en tant que directrice du marketing mondial au sein du Secteur sécurité et industriel de 3M, soit le plus important secteur de l’entreprise basé à son siège social mondial de St. Paul, au Minnesota. Penny a également dirigé le changement de la marque 3M à l’échelle mondiale en 2015 : « Science. Au service de la Vie.MC ». Elle a débuté sa carrière au sein de 3M Canada en 2000, puis elle est retournée au Canada en janvier 2020 pour occuper le poste de présidente. ],[frJob=Présidente, 3M Canada]

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