The most prevalent conversation surrounding STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) fields centers on the lack of people of color in these different industries.

In one attempt to reverse that trend in the nation’s capital, the D.C. STEM Network hosted the 2016 D.C. Stem Fair March 19 at Washington D.C.’s Dunbar High School in an attempt to reach out to public, private, home school, and parochial students to inspire them to pursue more positions in STEM industries. The STEM Fair gives students the chance to present their work and connect with local STEM organizations that can guide them into their respective fields.

Some of the projects showcased at the STEM Fair focused on engineering, with one student researching how well certain bridges could hold weight. Another project involved a middle school student heating soiled seeds in his home oven, testing the effects of global warming on plants and soil on a smaller, but effective scale.

Edgar, a Latino student at Hardy Middle School, tested different types of video games, and researched the likelihood of these games affecting students’ problem solving skills. Edgar took great pride in doing his own research, testing groups of students, and drawing his own conclusions by comparing these different groups based on the various video game types.

When asked if they do these sorts of projects at school, Edgar shook his head, saying, “No, I did it all by myself.”

The D.C. STEM Fair was also a chance to connect educators and parents to local organizations that can better inform them on ways to get children more involved in STEM opportunities. The TechBridge organization is a program operating in facilities such as Hart Middle School, Jefferson Middle School, and Kramer Middle School. In these locations TechBridge conducts mentorship programs and exposes students to STEM opportunities via field trips to places such as NASA and Microsoft headquarters and educational sit-ins that help young girls prepare for STEM careers. The Deloitte/Digitally INclined group is an Arlington-based firm that works specifically with young men to get them involved in the STEM areas of science and technology as well by providing guidance and consulting services to families as well as educators.

While the D.C. STEM Fair was an honest attempt at showcasing the achievements of many D.C. students, sadly many schools in Wards 7 and 8 were underrepresented in comparison to other historically economically stable wards. According to an anonymous D.C. STEM Fair volunteer, in spite of the Fair being held at the Dunbar High School, Dunbar students were nevertheless not represented at all in the expo.

The trend at the education level translates into the professional life. According to research conducted by the Change the Equation group, STEM fields have enormous employment opportunities, and many private and public sector employers are struggling to fill vacant positions with people from minority groups.

A 2011 survey conducted by the Census Bureau concluded that about 70.3 percent of mathematics occupations, 75.2 percent of engineering occupations, 68.6 percent of life and physical science occupations, 79.3 percent of social science occupations, and 66.9 percent of computer science positions are held by White people. Not to mention 74.2 percent of these overall positions are occupied by biological males.

This data indicates that while some minorities are interested in STEM fields, that interest has not translated into actual employment.

One of the major goals of national STEM efforts by groups such as Change the Equation is to increase the number of minority groups in occupational positions by encouraging students to enroll into college as STEM majors, which would increase the likelihood of a transition into permanent employment in STEM fields. Many of the students expressed a desire to continue their work in STEM once they graduated from high school, so events like the D.C. STEM Fair are geared towards finding students and assimilating them into mentorship programs that guide them into their respective career choices.