In one sentence.
It takes a village.
STEM fields are challenging regardless of ethnicity. Working in groups is common. People who have parents, uncles, siblings, cousins and friends available to talk shop, mentor or employ have advantages. They get comfortable with their ability to ask questions and learn. They know when they get stuck, there’s someone who understands and cares to turn to. These things are important when you’re 17, 18, or 19 trying to not just meet the challenges of a demanding curricula, but excel. People of color have less than half the expected resources to draw upon so it is the rare exception that we matriculate on a level playing field. HBCU’s serve as the village. Upon arrival, the village includes upperclassmen, grad students, professors and other support resources. Well prepared undergraduates will get the opportunity to develop closer relationships with faculty and learn about mentoring. In this light, the numbers in the following articles aren’t surprising.
If you or someone you mentor is trying to choose a school for a STEM education, please consider the benefits of the village. These days no matter where you go, students are supplementing their coursework with online courses such as MIT’s Open Courseware. Not everyone needs to go to an HBCU for STEM, but if we moved the number from 20% to say 30% it could have a huge impact on the village!