Social Physics

Sometimes when an app seems simple, math proven in a seemingly unrelated field may be involved. In this case it’s a variant of the Laplacian operator being used to analyze social networks. You don’t need to know this math to use social networks, but if you want to get the most out of them or better yet realize your own vision of one you need to at least know people who speak the math. Often that’s a physicist or engineer and getting to know them socially can be a good way to tap into what they know. OTOH, if you are deeply literate in math and want to help the villiage, or start a company or find a different work environment sharing this kind of information can help.

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Early Exposure To STEM Workplaces Is Vital

A study released last week talks about how to build interest in STEM fields:

“Students don’t learn enough about STEM careers unless their parents work in STEM areas, and the messages they receive from parents, teachers and counselors frequently fail to address how students think about and evaluate potential career paths,” said lead researcher Karen K. Myers, an associate professor of communication at the University of California, Santa Barbara, in a statement released to coincide with the paper. “Once students get a detailed picture of what it’s like to work in one of these jobs, it can motivate them to overcome difficult obstacles and adopt a STEM job as a goal.”
Even students from high socioeconomic backgrounds whose parents were college educated in non-STEM fields indicated that they depended on their connections with people outside of their immediate family to provide instrumental information about STEM careers. Students with insular family networks without a STEM career insider, or students from low socioeconomic communities would likely have less access to information that could generate their interest in STEM careers.”

http://thejournal.com/articles/2014/02/13/job-shadowing-can-get-students-more-interested-in-stem-careers.aspx

This is yet another reason why it takes a village.

The Power of the Village

In her MIT MLK Legacy speech by Physics and Nuclear Science & Engineering major Margo Batie

illustrates what the village can accomplish. In the last post it was mentioned STEM is hard, that you have to be prepared and that it takes a village. This young lady shows what it takes to prepare and excel in a demanding, competitive environment. Her success is rooted in an exceptionally strong STEM village(the subject of a future post). However they get it, young people need a strong village to excel in STEM.

The Reason Why HBCUs Dominate In STEM At All Levels

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!