Wisconsin Tech Month aims to increase diversity and equity in STEM
This October saw the return of Wisconsin Tech Month, which aims to grow the state as an emerging tech industry leader, with a focus on diversity and equity.
Wisconsin Tech Month is organized by Milky Way Tech Hub and Latinos in Tech. It includes panels, networking events and career fairs. One goal is to create opportunities for Black and brown people to launch a career in STEM. A 2021 Pew Research Center analysis showed that only 9% of people in the STEM workforce were Black and 8% were Hispanic.
One of the Tech Month events took place at UW-Milwaukee earlier this month. It was for students interested in STEM careers —that is, Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. Called “A Celebration of Diversity in STEM,” the event was set up for students to network with employers and connect with peers.
The keynote speaker was Sandra Charles. She’s the Chief Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Accessibility Officer at Fermilab, a federal government particle physics and accelerator laboratory.
"No one of us can step outside of the diversity conversation," Charles says. "What we need to do and what we have been doing is providing safe space to have conversation and learning."
Charles said Black and brown STEM majors are less likely to graduate from their programs. She said that’s because of a general lack of support for Black and brown students, from not having a mentor to show them the way, to not having peers of similar backgrounds they can relate to.
"The key ingredients that are identified as success factors for STEM pursuit are the acquisition of knowledge, opportunities to put that knowledge into practice, and developing a sense of competence and progress," Charles explains. "To some degree I would say, believing that you can, and you need to have a sense of belonging."
Creating a sense of belonging for everyone in STEM is the goal of Wisconsin Tech Month, said co-organizer Benjamin Juarez. Juarez is also the co-founder of Latinos in Tech.
"It doesn't matter who you are, what your background is, etc. We want everybody to come in because we've been left out of certain tables before in the past," Juarez says. "We can't repeat the same mistakes that the people that started or created those tables before us, and that's why we're bringing everybody on board."
The networking event provided an opportunity not only for Black and brown students to connect with various employers, but also for them to see a clear path towards their ideal career. Jose Trujillo, an electrical engineering major at UWM, described what he hopes to find in the industry.
"I think for me, having a place where everybody has the same resources to succeed, where everybody's ideas are valued equally, and where the color of your skin or your origin or what language you speak doesn't affect your ability to progress in this field," Trujillos says. "I think that's what the future looks like to me."
Trujillo is graduating from UWM this December. he says that as a Latino student and the first in his family to attend college, having a supportive community made a big difference. Now he’s preparing to apply for PhD programs.
"Whether it's my parents cheering me up, my friends staying up with me, studying and doing homework, or professors helping me out, building a community is super crucial to be successful in some of these programs," Trujillo says. "The overall psychological benefits of having a community with you, having your support squad with you—it's super important I think.
Wisconsin Tech Month organizers hope more students like Trujillo can find the support they need to succeed in STEM careers.