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Maybe It's All In The Stars

Posted By Jonathan Noel, Thursday, March 6, 2014
Now, you are going to have bear with me on this one because it might take a little while to get to the end and it's not exactly public health, although almost everything can be made to involve public health. Ok, ok, ok, it involves public health too.

Now, part of UConn's plan for the future is to hire 200 science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) faculty.  This, quite simply, is a good thing.  The STEM disciplines are the future and public health will need to find a way to be a part of that, but that's not the point of this post.  With the high attention levels the STEM disciplines are receiving from UConn, other universities, and the President, there is a particularly great need for everyone to have equal access to a STEM education.

Unfortunately, this is not the case.  There are huge disparities in the STEM workforce with Asians, mixed race, and non-Hispanic whites comprising nearly the entire working population.  What about women you ask?  Well, here's a little anecdote.  I roomed with an engineer in college and we were joking with him about how there aren't any girls in his classes.  One of us guessed that there must be 2 girls that he sees on a somewhat regular basis.  He looked at us for a moment, counted in his head twice, and said something to they effect of "Yeah, there are 2 of them."  Woman participation in the STEM fields is better than in the past but there is still at least a 2:1 men:women ration, which brings me to the point of this whole thing.

I wonder if it comes down to inspiration.  I've been reading a lot about scientific history lately.  How the greatest minds came up with the great theories and the great laws that govern the world around us, and they all have one thing in common...the stars.  Not that they all involve the stars, although many do, but that they could see them.  Clear as day.  Thousands of them each night with nothing but the moon in the way.  (When was the last time you looked at the southern horizon at night and could see the Milky Way?)

Now, here's another anecdote.  I walked out of work the other day and could barely see the stars in Orion's belt.  Needless to say, staring into an essentially black, blank canvas on another cold winter's night wasn't exactly the most uplifting experience.  But if I could look up and see even half the stars that are possible to see, perhaps that experience would be different.  Perhaps they could provide perspective, inspiration, or a number of other words I can't quite get think of at the moment.

Minority populations have tended to concentrate in urban environments with even greater light pollution than where I am and even less stars. 

I'm not arguing that light at night or the lack of stars in the sky at night is the sole reason for STEM disparities.  I'm just saying that maybe it is a part, and maybe it is a part that we too often overlook.

We all need inspiration once in awhile, right?  Something to restart the fire.  What better place to start than the stars? 

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