Ray Mellado is President and CEO of Mellcom, Inc.*, which produces the annual Hispanic National Achievement Awards Conference** and its television broadcast, Success Through Education — A Salute to Hispanic Excellence. He is also the Publisher of Technica*** magazine.
What is the purpose of your work?
Our primary mission is encouraging Hispanic youth to pursue careers in technology. Technica is a role-modeling and informative magazine about the avenues and programs and information available concerning pursuing careers in technology. It goes out to all of the universities around the country. We also do educational videos and brochures for companies that reach out to the Hispanic community to let students know what careers are available for engineers and scientists.
Why is it so important to bring more minority students into science and engineering fields?
The National Science Foundation has said that all segments of our population need to be enrolled in math-based degrees at accredited universities in our country. That means white male, white female, Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, and all the rest. There’s only one segment of our population that’s over parity right now, and that’s the Asian male. All other segments are below parity, and in fact our universities have had to go overseas to bring students in to fulfill our undergraduate, graduate and Ph.D. programs. We’re not going to remain number one in technology unless we get our students enrolled in these programs.
Talking about the Hispanic community specifically, we know that the 1990 census shows that Hispanics were 11.2% of the population. We expect the 2000 census will probably show Hispanics at 15-17% of the population. Yet 1997 statistics show that Hispanics received only 6.1% of the science, math and technology degrees from accredited universities. By 2050, one out of every four Americans will be Latino—and therefore, 25% of the science math and technology degrees granted should be to Hispanics.
That’s a tall order, isn’t it?
It’s a huge order. And there’s a similar problem in the African American community, and it is also a problem in the white male and female community.
What do we need to do to bring more minority students into engineering fields?
You don’t wake up in the 12th grade and decide you want to be an engineer or a scientist. It starts probably in middle school, and it can even start sooner than that.
To reach these students, we have to work through our teachers and classrooms, and we have to work with their parents.
How do you do that?
For one thing, it’s amazing how many teachers and students don’t understand what an engineer or a scientist does. Our surveys have found that teachers don’t have the knowledge of what kinds of careers are available, so it’s very difficult for them to relay that on to their students. This problem is especially serious in the inner city.
Teachers have to realize that technology is important and that our students need to be prepared. They, themselves, need to know the opportunities that exist in technical fields. Then they need to share with their students as much as they know.
Eighty percent of all jobs in the new decade will be involved with technology. When a student graduates from high school they need to have taken the courses that prepare them for the college coursework that leads to degrees in technology.
One of the most important things we can do, then, is make sure teachers are well-informed about careers in technology, and that they understand the preparation students need in high school to be in a position to pursue those careers.
We all need to understand that minority students have the same capacity to do analytical work as in any other population. We need to challenge minority students the same as we do everyone else. Have faith in the students. Young people can handle the work and they need to handle that work in order to be ready for the future.