Una Mano al Futuro: Making Science Accessible to Latino Communities

Minorities and women have long made up a low percentage in the fields of science, mathematics, engineering, and technology (SMET). Specifically, Latina girls are more likely than girls in any other ethnic group to drop out of high school. In fact, 26% leave high school without a diploma, and they do so at a younger age than girls in all other groups. 1 With this high school dropout rate, it is not surprising that only 14% of bachelor's degrees in science and engineering were awarded to Hispanic men and women in 1996. 2 In an effort to address the under-representation of Latina women in science and engineering, the Association for Women in Science (AWIS) will leverage its wide array of resources and materials, developed from over a decade of instituting mentoring programs, through a dissemination project that targets Latina girls and young women. Mentoring has proven to be a successful form of inspiring and educating young women to pursue their interests in the SMET fields and of training them in developing relevant skills. Studies have demonstrated that students who pursue science are more likely than others to have had mentors, opportunities to explore potential careers, and supportive environments. The focus of the "Program for Gender Equity in Science, Engineering, Mathematics, and Technology" grant awarded to AWIS by the National Science Foundation, then, is twofold: (1) to promote AWIS mentoring resources for girls interested in learning about and pursuing SMET careers and (2) to develop mentoring programs in Latino communities with the help of local AWIS chapters and Latino organizations. The project, Una Mano Al Futuro, will focus on reaching middle and high school Latino girls at critical stages. It will provide resources that can be used by the young women, their parents, teachers, and community leaders to create an environment that allows the young women to explore their interests in careers in science, mathematics, engineering, and technology.

AWIS currently has published several mentoring resources, including A Hand Up: Women Mentoring Women in Science, Grants at a Glance, and Mentoring Means Future Scientists. Under the grant mentioned above, these award-winning publications will be updated and revised to include Latina scientists, engineers, and students in technical fields of study so that these girls have role models. And AWIS will produce Spanish-language editions of these resources with online companion materials in both English and Spanish. In addition, it will create materials on how to develop outreach programs for organizations interested in implementing mentoring projects. These materials will include ideas for school-related projects, discussion topics for forums or discussion groups, sample letters on how to garner support and participation, guidelines for writing college application essays, and contact information for other organizations in the area that can help with outreach.

Our goal is to finish updating the resource A Hand Up: Women Mentoring Women in Science and compile the other "how to" outreach program materials by spring 2002. Because March is Women's History Month, we would like to coordinate the dissemination of some of these resources during that time. AWIS will work with several partners, including its own local chapters, to ensure that the materials are distributed effectively and efficiently. ASPIRA, a nonprofit organization committed to Latino youth issues; Minority Women in Science (MWIS); and the Society for Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS) will work with us in developing and disseminating materials.

AWIS will begin to disseminate Grants at a Glance and Mentoring Means Future Scientists, as well as placing the bilingual versions of these resources on the Web, by summer 2002, with completion expected by 2003.

If you or an organization you are affiliated with is interested in disseminating materials or in implementing a mentoring outreach program in your area, please contact Keren Arkin at the AWIS national office at (202) 326-8954.

References1.D. Canedy, "Troubling Label for Hispanics: Girls Most Likely to Drop Out." The New York Times, 25 March 2001.

2.National Science Board, Science and Engineering Indicators 2000, vol. 1 (National Science Foundation, Arlington, VA, 2000).

Editor's note: The Minority Scientists Network will highlight and link to AWIS resources as they become available.

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