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Removing Courage Is NOT Effective Teaching



The Bayer Corporation published a report in 2010 that indicates that many minorities as well as women have been discouraged from pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering, math (STEM). The word dis-courage means to remove courage.  The study suggests that the American educational system is doing just that when it comes to minorities and STEM.

Forty-percent of today’s women and underrepresented minority chemists and chemical engineers in the United States say they were discouraged from pursuing a career in STEM at some point in their lives (Bayer, 2010).

Those surveyed believed that this happened to them mostly while they were in college, and the person most likely to discourage them was their instructor. Really? These findings resonated with me as I experienced this while I was an undergraduate student pursuing my computer science degree.

The incident occurred when I approached my advisor about my plans to double major in computer science and business. I needed his advice on adding the business major and to plan my route to register for the courses to reach my goal. I was already majoring in computer science and I wanted to add business administration and get credited for two degrees.

I was met with opposition from my advisor. He told me that he did not think I had what it took to complete a degree in computer science, let alone be successful at any attempt to double-major. My first thought was Wow! You can tell all of that about me from letter grades on a piece of paper?

I also remember thinking why is my advisor not encouraging me and offering the help I need to to succeed.  Instead he suggested that I change my major to one less challenging than computer science and to forget about the idea of double majoring completely.

As I have never been one to quit, I politely told him that I appreciated his feedback but I would expect him to help me file the needed paperwork to be registered as a double major and if he could direct me to an appropriate advisor in the business department.

I graduated in 1986 with a double major in computer science and business administration. I have enjoyed a very successful career in computer science and business. I must admit that I was somewhat surprised to learn that this still happens.

Was it personal for my advisor? Did my advisor think he was doing a good thing by giving me this advice? I do not know what the answer is, but what I do know is that it was not helpful to me. While I am studying the dearth of African American males in computing it is interesting to discover the myriad of social practices that lead to their underrepresentation.

How many young men have experienced this discouragement and decided to switch to a so-called less challenging major as a result?  Do not fall victim to this type of discouragement. Be strong and move forward toward your goals. If your advisor or instructor is discouraging you simply find a new one. Find one that is positive and encouraging and who will work with you to reach your goals.  You can do and be whatever you wish.  It is up to you!


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