As I am about to enter the healthcare workforce as a Black pediatric resident, it has been 11 years since a Science Technology Engineering Math (STEM) seed was planted in the classroom of my Connecticut public high school. I first learned of Dr. Percy Julian, a Black chemist who is known for creating physostigmine, a widely used glaucoma medication. He made me realize individuals  who looks like me can be successful leaders and visionaries within the STEM field. With the passing of the law to include Black, Latinx and, Puerto Rican studies in high school classrooms in Connecticut, these communities’ contributions to the STEM field should be included to inspire the next generation of underrepresented students in STEM.

There is an enormous opportunity for minority students to find their place within the STEM field. In 2018, the Pew Research Center reported that Black and Latinx make up only 9% and 7% of current STEM workforce, respectively. The first step to include more underrepresented minorities in the STEM field is to plant the seed within the classroom, telling the students that there are trailblazers who are just like them in these fields.

Going through my medical training, I observe how important representation is to students of color. Seeing accomplished individuals who share identifiable racial, cultural, ethical, and even geographical similarities fosters a “If they have done it, I can do it, too” mentality for aspiring STEM students. Within my own field, only 2% of physicians across America identify as Black women.

Yet, through the Aetna Health Professions Partnership Initiative Health Career Opportunity Program at University of Connecticut, I was able to find the support and encouragement through a fellow Hartford native, Dr. Marja Hurley. I continue to be inspired by her work and accomplishments as a Black woman in medicine with an avid desire to increase the number of underrepresented students in medicine.  With this representation within my own medical school, it energized me to continue on a journey to become a physician-advocate.

Improving minorities’ representation in STEM fields has implications beyond individual levels. It helps us address some of society ills such as systematic racism. While co-authoring the newly adopted American Medical Association’s Racism is a Public Health Threat policy with other medical students, we cited over 100 articles authored by minority physicians and scientists who dedicated to highlighting the racial inequities known within medicine and our society. Their leadership laid the foundations of discussing the relationship between societal disenfranchisement towards communities of color and systemic inequalities within medical system. Building on their accomplishment, our policy would maximize the impact on the nation’s oldest and largest organized medical association to further address this issue.

Yet, despite this accomplishment, it is still a rare feat for minorities to enter into STEM fields. As  2017, there were several STEM fields where there was not a single doctoral degree was awarded to a black person within the United States.  We still have a long fight to increase the numbers of underrepresented minorities in STEM though, we can start to change this by highlighting the work already accomplished by minority academics early on in our education system such as within high school classrooms.

My passion for advocacy and creating a better health system for all came from the very high school chemistry class learning about an individual who looked like me. The inclusion of STEM contributions in minorities studies in Connecticut high schools has the opportunity to help us shape possible future leaders in this field who can make significant changes to better society for all.

Faith Crittenden lives in Vernon.

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