The United States faces a serious challenge in educating the future STEM workforce. A multi-year study conducted by the University of California at Los Angeles concluded that STEM graduates take longer to complete their degrees and are more likely to drop out than those in non-STEM fields. Proper preparation is cited as one of the problems: many high school students seeking to enter STEM fields are unprepared for the scientific and highly technical course material they encounter as freshmen. At the high school level, a shortage of qualified teachers means that students are not introduced to programming or computer science, which means that by the time they reach the undergraduate level, many have already chosen a course of study and mapped out their degree path and technology is not part of it.

Florida high schools are no different than many other high schools in the United States. According to Code.org, a national leader in computer science advocacy, only 2,688 high school students in Florida took the AP Computer Science exam in 2016. Of that, 738 students were Hispanic, 159 students were African-American, five students were Native American or Alaska Native and only two students were Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander. Additionally, only 146 schools in Florida (14 percent of Florida schools with AP programs) offered the AP Computer Science course in 2015-16. There were fewer AP exams taken in computer science last year than in any other STEM subject area. The good news is that Florida has established K-12 computer science standards and has clear certification pathways for computer science teachers. Additionally, computer science is permitted to count as a core graduation requirement. The bad news is that just like nearly every state in the U.S., Florida is grappling with the need for computer science teachers and professional development opportunities for teachers.

Our hope is that through a partnership with local high school teachers to help them build knowledge, skills, and confidence in computer science, engineering, and information technology, who in turn, can help engage students in STEM learning and prepare them for success in STEM careers. By helping more teachers become proficient in teaching CS/IT courses, at an earlier stage, more young people will become aware of CS/IT career opportunities and prepare themselves for technology-related education at the university level, which, ultimately, will help tackle the STEM workforce deficit in the United States. It is our belief that maintaining a “STEM-interested” student body can potentially have significant long-term implications.

According to a study by Cornell University ILR School, fewer women and minorities are receiving bachelor degrees in STEM disciplines. The percentage of men entering STEM fields was higher than that of woman (33% vs. 14%); Asian/Pacific Islander students experienced a 47% STEM entrance rate as opposed to other groups (19-23%). Some reasons cited as to the lower entrance rates for these groups include lack of preparation throughout secondary education and a lack of positive role models in the same gender or race.

Studies show that the self-confidence instilled by parents and teachers at an early age is more important for young girls learning math and science than their initial interest. When it comes to mathematics, girls rate their abilities markedly lower than boys, even when there is no observable difference between the two, according to Florida State University researchers. Our team really believes that when you change girls’ beliefs, that changes everything. Our team knows the extensive research evidence. We know what works. That’s why we find it so important to get evidence out to teachers and to parents.


Latinos – The growth in the Latino student population indicates that by 2023, Hispanic students will account for nearly 30% of total enrollment, from early childhood through 12th grade, according to an UnidosUS 2015 Policy Brief, “Latinos in New Spaces: Emerging Trends & Implications for Federal Education Policy.”  Currently, Hispanics comprise 19% of Sarasota’s total student population, showing a steady increase since 2011. The UnidosUS report notes that, despite improvements in educational attainment in recent years, there continue to be persistent disparities in performance between Latinos and other students.  For example, Latinos have higher dropout rates, as evidenced locally in the SCOPE report card, and lower postsecondary degree attainment, compared to other racial/ethnic groups. The UnidosUS brief cites recent polling data that show Latinos place an overwhelming value on higher education: “87% of Hispanic respondents said that college education was extremely important, significantly higher than the national average of 78%.”  This is important to note, because, while most of Hispanic families might not have the tools or experience to help their children advance to higher education, they most certainly recognize the value of it in ending the cycle of poverty, and have the willingness/desire, if not always the ability, to support their children in their efforts.

African-Americans – According to National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), African-Americans received just 7.6 percent of all STEM bachelor’s degrees and 4.5 percent of doctorates in STEM.  In 2011, 11 percent of the workforce was black, while 6 percent of STEM workers were black, up from 2 percent in 1970.  Despite educational progress over the past seven years, including climbing graduation rates and shrinking dropout rates, too many African-American students still lack access to the educational resources that offer a fair shot at success. Less than one-third of public high schools serving predominantly African-American students offer calculus. Only about 40 percent of public high schools serving predominantly African-American students offer physics. This lack of access to foundational STEM skills puts African-American students at a significant disadvantage in preparing for advanced STEM courses and careers. According to U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights (2014), African-American students represent 16 percent of all high school students, but only 9 percent among students enrolled in an AP course. Moreover, of those African-American students enrolled in an AP course, only 4 percent received AP test scores that are qualified for college credit. No African-American students took the AP computer science exam in nine states.