Resource Guide for Asian American and Pacific Islander Students in STEM

Finding STEM programs that support AAPI students is hard, but not impossible. Discover trends, challenges, and support for AAPI students in STEM in this resource guide.

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by Kim-Ling Sun

Updated November 8, 2022

Reviewed by Angelique Geehan

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Resource Guide for Asian American and Pacific Islander Students in STEM
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Many people believe all Asians dominate STEM, but that overgeneralization is far from the truth. There are about 50 distinct ethnic groups included in the demographic category "Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders" (AAPI), yet only people from a few of the subgroups make it to the top of the field. Southeast Asians who also fall under this umbrella term, like Hmong, are significantly underrepresented.

Colleges, universities, and research institutions are now working to address these inequalities. Through scholarships, networking, and the creation of AAPI-specific support systems, they hope to help shatter the glass ceiling that many AAPI people encounter studying and working in STEM.

Here are some great resources to help you navigate STEM both on campus and in your career.

Promising Trends for AAPI Students in STEM

About 13%
of AAPI students earn associate degrees in STEM-related fields.

Around 35%
of AAPI students earn bachelor's degrees in STEM fields.

13%
of the STEM workforce in global research is made up of AAPIs.

More than 29%
of recent AAPI immigrants fill STEM roles.

Challenges for AAPI Students in STEM

Perpetuating the Model Minority Myth

One myth is that AAPI students excel in mathematics and science and do not need the same extra instructional support as their peers. In reality, they may be bridging learning gaps and need more support. First-generation students, for example, may be students with interrupted formal education (SIFE) or may still be struggling with language acquisition for academic language.

Leadership Opportunities

The general misconception that AAPI people are "worker bees" and not leaders, holds them back from moving up to leadership roles in the STEM world. AAPI students are thus often misread as having a lack of ambition and not being go-getters in academic settings.

Gender Bias

AAPI women face an additional hurdle in combating gender and racial bias. With STEM already being a male-dominated field, AAPI women who subvert the docile, compliant "feminine" stereotype may become unflatteringly labeled as a "dragon lady." This reality can make STEM less attractive for AAPI women.

"When I first started app development, I saw no one that looked like me in this field – especially women. I longed for a network where I could gain mentorship and build strong relationships. Having an AAPI mentor would have significantly helped me be more successful."

— Annie Vang, iOS app developer and founder of HmongPhrases

Five Programs That Support AAPI Students in STEM

Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander-Serving Institutions (AANAPISI) play a critical role in making the academic playing field equitable in this often overlooked and underserved community. Below are five programs that provide support for AAPI students in STEM studies:

University of Hawai'i at Manoa: A partner with The National Science Foundation in Project AGILE (AAPI in Geoscience: Inclusivity, Leadership, and Experience), the university is increasing representation at its world-renowned School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology. The program provides undergraduates with research internships. It also aims to make national cross-career connections between AAPI geoscientists and students through discussions about diversity and inclusion.

The City College of New York: As a recipient of nearly $1 million for its ADVANCE Adaptation: Advancing Inclusion, Diversity, and Equity in STEM (AIDE STEM), CCNY is continuing to attract underrepresented BIPOC faculty. Bringing in this much-needed diversity will provide stronger faculty mentorships for AAPI students and support a more inclusive culture.

University of California, Riverside: With innovative programs like the Career Mentoring of Underrepresented Students for the Professoriate (CUSP), this university supports AAPI students interested in becoming professors in STEM. The program aims to connect underrepresented students with mentor professors in the field. In addition, the program also provides students with free Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science membership. It also funds an all-expense paid trip to The National Diversity in STEM Conference, where students can present their research.

Wellesley College: This women-only college provides an exceptional liberal arts education while still allowing AAPI people the opportunity to focus on STEM studies. It provides resources for students of Asian descent, including internships earmarked for AAPI students wishing to pursue their degree in STEM.

University of Massachusetts Boston: This student-centered urban public research university supports its growing AAPI population. Its network of support has been carefully crafted with the Asian American Resource Office, academic support services, and its Institute for Asian American Studies. The project's goal is to ensure students receive mentorship and support as they enter challenging fields.

5 Scholarships for AAPI Students in STEM

There are many institutions, non-profits, and companies invested in opening doors for underrepresented AAPI. Here are five scholarships that provide financial support for AAPI students including those wish to pursue studies in STEM.

EPP/MSI Undergraduate Scholarship

Who Is Eligible?: Applicants must be attending Minority Serving Institutions, enrolled as a full-time second year student in a four-year program, transferring from a two-year to a four-year program, or a is a 3rd year student in a five-year program. Applicant must earn and maintain a 3.2 GPA and also be majoring in a STEM field that support the mission of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
Application Deadline: January 31, 2023
Scholarship Amount: The scholarship funds two years of undergraduate study valued up to $45,000 and includes travel and conference participation.


Orchard Scholarship for Women of Color in STEM

Who Is Eligible?: Women of color who are either a high school senior intending to pursue a STEM degree or an undergraduate sophomore or junior currently pursuing a STEM degree are eligible for this scholarship. Applicants must have a minimum GPA of a 3.0
(Describe scholarship requirements and brief info about the scholarship)
Application Deadline: April 1, 2023

Scholarship Amount: Three scholarships will be given this year in the amounts of $500, $1,000, and $2,500.


APIA Scholarship

Who Is Eligible?: This scholarship is open to Asian Pacific Islander Americans who are first generation, live at or below the poverty line, or are underrepresented on college campuses. Applicants must be enrolling or continuing enrollment as an undergraduate at an accredited college or university. They must also have a minimum cumulative GPA of 2.7 on a 4.0 scale (unweighted) or earned a G.E.D.
Application Deadline: January 19, 2023
Scholarship Amount: Awards range from $2,500 one-time scholarships to multi-year scholarships of $20,000


AANAPISI Scholarship

Who Is Eligible?: This scholarship is open to underserved Asian Pacific Islander Americans who are attending qualifying AANAPISI partner campuses. The scholarship aims to reach low income or first generation undergraduates. Applicants must be enrolling or continuing enrollment as a full-time undergraduate seeking a degree at one of the APIA Scholars AANAPISI Partner Institutions.
Application Deadline: January 19, 2023
Scholarship Amount: Awards range from $2,500 one-time scholarships to multi-year scholarships of $5,000


UFCEA Undergraduate Diversity Scholarship

Who Is Eligible?: Applicants are eligible if they are a woman or a minority student and hold an AFCEA student membership or Junior Enlisted membership. Additionally, they must have a minimum 3.0 GPA and be enrolled as a full-time sophomore or junior pursuing a degree in a STEM field. This scholarship is only open to U.S. Citizens or permanent residents.
Application Deadline: May 31, 2023
Scholarship Amount: $3,000

"Colleges should provide more networking opportunities, mentoring, and events that can bring students and tech professionals together so that they can have opportunities to network. In addition, colleges can include more AAPI tech professionals in their marketing and show students that their alums can be successful in STEM fields."

— Annie Vang, iOS app developer and founder of HmongPhrases

Additional Resources for AAPI Students in STEM

Finding resources to support you in your STEM studies may be hard if you don't know where to look. Here are some great resources that can help:

The SASE works to prepare scientists of Asian descent for success in the global engineering market. Its primary goal is to close the Asian leadership gap in STEM-related fields.

This resource is a cohesive directory of women in Oceania and Asia whose primary goal is to promote gender equality in STEM. It provides women opportunities to advance their careers in this male-dominated field.

CIE-USA is a Chinese American nonprofit that supports engineers, scientists, and other professionals. Its central aim is to promote STEM by hosting conferences and workshops in communities across the U.S.

NACME's mission is to increase the number of AAPI and BIPOC engineers in the United States by promoting diversity in STEM-related fields. It partners with organizations to support academic scholarships for high-achieving, underrepresented students.

This national nonprofit is dedicated to increasing underrepresented populations, such as Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and American Indians in STEM studies and careers. AISES supports students by providing scholarships, professional development, and networking opportunities.

Explore BestColleges' Diversity in STEM resources

Frequently Asked Questions About AAPI Students in STEM

Are AAPI people underrepresented in STEM?

AAPI people are inadequately represented in STEM. The National Institutes of Health's use of a misguided formula to calculate grant funding and fellowships is what has been negatively impacting some underrepresented groups like AAPIs. The NIH holds them in the same privileged class with whites. This makes AAPIs as a whole ineligible for the grant funding thas was earmarked to create equity.

The impact of this classification by the NIH is that certain ethnic groups fall under the AAPI umbrella in STEM and are even further marginalized. This is particularly true with Southeast Asians who have the least amount of representationin STEM. Unfortunately, they are overshadowed by larger AAPI groups like the Chinese.

Are AAPIs underrepresented in biomedical research?

AAPI people continue to be severely underrepresented in U.S. biomedical research. An article in Cell research journal reports that Asians receive fewer U.S. biomedical research prizes.

But efforts to improve representation in the biomedical research field are being made. In 2021, the National Institutes of Health released a report stating its intentions to address and improve structural racism in this field.

How many Asians are in STEM?

According to the U.S. Census Bureau's ACS data, 9% of Asians worked in STEM fields in 2019, and AAPIs made up about 6% of the general workforce in the United States. But these percentage points are dominated by only a few ethnicities.

About 16% of Asians have a degree in a science and engineering field. Within these two STEM fields, the highest percentage of AAPIs have a degree in the computer and mathematical sciences field, at about 24%.

With Advice From:

Portrait of Annie Vang

Annie Vang

Annie is a Hmong American born in a refugee camp in Thailand who came to the United States as a refugee following the Vietnam War. She learned English as a second language. Growing up, her family moved around a lot, and she has lived in various places such as Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, California, and Rhode Island. This experience helped shape Annie's ability to be adaptive and embrace change. Annie faced many challenges in her quest for professional development such as being discouraged from higher education because she was married with a child, and faced misogyny and discrimination in IT.

She’s continued to persevere to fight for a seat at the table. Today, Annie resides in Deforest, WI with her husband. She has one son and four grandchildren. She enjoys sewing, embroidery, cooking, crafting, and spending time with her grandchildren in her free time.