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Most people are aware of the Oscar nominated film Hidden Figures – the story chronicling the team of African American women mathematicians who played a crucial role at NASA during the early years of the U.S. space program. Their story is one of determination and achievement despite hurdles intended to block their progress. Their triumph is a symbol of African American progress in the areas of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), a story that resonates more than 50 years later during Black History Month.
Today, creating a diverse workforce in STEM and the health sciences is critical to supporting health care that is culturally and linguistically appropriate, as well as providing greater economic opportunities for racial and ethnic minority populations. At the HHS Office of Minority Health (OMH), part of our work is helping to create pathways to success for underserved students to achieve better health and better economic security for their communities.
OMH’s National Workforce Diversity Pipeline Program is designed to address health disparities by supporting networks of institutions focused on establishing health care and behavioral health pipeline programs for minority and disadvantaged students. The program is designed to raise awareness of health sciences careers, provide a stronger foundation in math and sciences, and increasing the availability of STEM education programs for youth. Meeting those goals will help strengthen success and graduation rates in high school, college and beyond, and improve economic stability in communities.
Early learning opportunities in STEM fields are needed to ensure that our future leaders are well equipped to tackle the problems of tomorrow. And factors such as suspension and expulsion impact access to education and warrant attention and understanding as urgent issues that affect quality of life and public health. This framework of health equity in which we work acknowledges that social determinants of health— the conditions that impact the environment in which today’s students live, learn, work, and play—provide the foundation for better overall health and well-being.
Good health thrives in neighborhoods that have strong schools, safe neighborhoods, improved housing conditions, reliable transportation, clean air, higher paying jobs and healthy, affordable food options. The STEM education that leads to successful careers for students of color makes many of these goals possible.
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