Developing theNext Generation

With science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) occupations slated to become all the more important to our growth as a nation, it is in the national interest to break down the barriers for Latinos.  According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in the United States, employment in STEM occupations is projected to grow nearly two times faster than the average for all occupations in the next few years.  It is estimated that tech companies will have in the range of 430,000 STEM job openings.   Developing the core academic habits and skills that are required to successfully develop the next generation of Latino talent for STEM positions is a prerequisite in creating a reliable and skilled  workforce to fill those positions.

To effectively encourage greater participation and access in STEM it is imperative that all Latino students should at least understand basic critical thinking and strategic planning. A current absence of focused instruction in critical thinking and strategic planning is the real crux of the problem Latino students are having.   A significantly larger number of Latino students will be attracted to the STEM occupations if they are introduced to an approach to problem solving that can empower them across all fields of study. It is an understatement that few people realize the powerful role that critical thinking and strategic planning  play in their lives.  In order to have a measurable impact in recruiting and adequately preparing Latino students to succeed in the STEM occupations it is not only important to  inspire passion for STEM occupations, but it›s also important that Latino students see the necessity of critical thinking and strategic planning and gain significant command of it because failure to do so will inevitably have a negative effect on their school success.   In the STEM context, it’s critically important for Latino students to make time to reflect before making decisions required to successfully negotiate a STEM education and career.   Critical thinkers and strategic planners take the time to reflect and consider relationships between ideas, plans, and people that others fail to see.

Latino students need to be exposed to critical thinking tools for taking charge of their learning and their life choices.  Latino student cultural perspectives need a “reboot” as it pertains to education generally and STEM specifically.  Latino students view people in the STEM field differently than Anglos. Therefore, a major challenge with combatting existing stereotypes within the Latino community regarding STEM occupations is to put forth more Latino role models to change the current thinking.  As all competent and seasoned educators know, both the affective and cognitive domains must be attended to. Whatever actions taken is determined by the way a person is thinking. Whatever people feel, all emotions, are determined by thinking. Whatever people want, all desires, are determined by  thinking. If  thinking is unrealistic, it will lead  to many disappointments. If thinking is unduly pessimistic, it will close the door to many opportunities in which an individual should properly consider and pursue.

Generally speaking, most people are their own worst enemy in achieving their potential when they do not expand their thinking to include insights from multiple perspectives. Myopic thinking is a continual source of problems, preventing people from recognizing opportunities, preventing them from making sure that their activities are relevant to their goals and purposes, developing relationships, and leading them to frustrating and unfulfilling experiences.  Latino students need to be introduced to intellectual “tools” that critical thinkers use to improve their thinking ability.  Educators must do a much better job of communicating to Latino students the applicability of the most important qualities of a critical thinker.  For example, critical thinkers do not take their thinking for granted, they think about their thinking.   In other words, critical thinkers notice their thinking, reflect on their thinking and then act upon their thinking; Critical thinkers are highly purposeful in that their actions are not reactive but rather reflective. In short, critical thinkers create clear goals and clear priorities before taking action and then continually measure their actions to insure that their actions are in alignment with their goals; and critical thinkers continually work at accurately and precisely expressing or communicating their thinking.

Additionally, Latino students must be taught that critical thinkers are strategic planners. A fundamental understanding of what strategic planning is critical to successfully negotiating the educational ladder. Teaching Latino students that they have the capability and opportunity to think strategically doesn’t mean making decisions that affect changing life circumstances beyond their control.  It requires only that you analyze small and large decisions in the context of your broader goals. It is critical that educators provide and nurture the unique insight that everyone, including Latinos, have an opportunity to think strategically.

Strategical thinking necessitates the ability and willingness to make choices. As the famous Renaissance group research has demonstrated, “failure to focus on a few key strategies contributes to the failure to execute strategy.” Making choices, both about what you will do and what you won’t do, requires the courage to take action and confidence to abandon an alternative.  The current student development pedagogy in our Latino serving public middle schools and high schools, all too pervasively, fail in inculcating the habit or practice of routinely self-evaluation of one’s own  thinking to determine its strengths and weaknesses. If Latino students learn that the disciplined practice of evaluating one›s thinking is a habit one must (and can consciously) learn then they will be empowered to be more deliberate in their thoughts and actions.

 To effectively encourage and prepare greater Latino student participation and access in the STEM field it is imperative that Latino students be equipped with at least a basic understanding of critical thinking and strategic planning. Taking command of one’s thinking enables one to reason well through the problems and issues one faces in the classroom and in our personal lives. Teaching this to our Latino students at an early age will help them succeed in school and their chosen careers.

Joseph Velasquez is the founder of