District 30 State Sen. Linda Pondexter Chesterfield said Wednesday that the founding mission of the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff to provide higher education opportunities to minority students continues to be its driving force as it emphasizes the importance of careers in science and engineering.
“I couldn’t help but notice the recent decision of the U. S. Supreme Court finding that while affirmative action was OK, the states could decide whether they want to use it or not,” Chesterfield said as the luncheon speaker during the 21st annual Mary E. Benjamin Educational Access Conference. “Can you imagine what things would have been like if that ruling had come down in the 1950s or 1960s?
“You may ask what this has to do with the STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] curriculum,” Chesterfield said. “This has everything to do with STEM. If we produce STEM graduates then we will see industry come to the Delta and good paying jobs along with it, race be damned.”
Chesterfield went through an extensive list of names of black men and women who have made significant STEM-related contributions to the economic strength of the United States.
“The scientific fields are full of African-American inventors and patent holders,” Chesterfield said. “So many of our children in K-12 have been told that they cannot succeed because they come from a single-parent household or because they are poor. Those who I have mentioned put truth to that lie. These were people who in some cases were one step out of slavery.”
Chesterfield said that educators must continue to introduce their students to STEM subjects, and that it must be done even in the face of federal funding cuts and a U. S. Supreme Court that is hostile to affirmative action.
“This struggle may be a moral one and it may be a physical one or it may be moral and physical, but it must be a struggle,” Chesterfield said, quoting the famous passage from Frederick Douglass.
“It is education that gives you freedom,” Chesterfield said. “It is time for those of us who believe in this institution to invest the time and the energy into pushing UAPB to greater things. This land grant institution was the best hope of African-Americans and in many ways it still is. African-American students can now go wherever they want to for college but the barriers to success created by one’s race are alive and well.”
Chesterfield said that while STEM is important, the arts must not be forgotten.
“It is through the arts that we have the quality of life that we do and we must not forget that,” Chesterfield said. ” Music and literature is an integral part of who we are.”
Cindy Moss is the Director of Global STEM Initiatives at Discovery Education and provided the morning keynote address.
“All kids can do STEM subjects,” Moss said. “The earlier in life we start working with students on STEM concepts the more competitive they will be on a global level. The important thing is to give students of all ages real-world problems. Hands-on learning engages 60 percent of a child’s brain, where traditional learning only engages 40 percent.”
Moss said that it is important that teachers are trained to use inquiry to engage young minds.