Resource Guide for Black and African American Students in STEM

Black and African American students are still underrepresented in STEM. With this guide, learn how to support Black and African American students in STEM.

portrait of Bernard Grant, Ph.D.
by Bernard Grant, Ph.D.

Updated November 4, 2022

Reviewed by Pamela “Safisha Nzingha” Hill, Ph.D.

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Resource Guide for Black and African American Students in STEM
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Black workers make up only 9% of the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) workforce across all fields, according to the Pew Research Center. This includes coding jobs at tech companies, a sector that has grown significantly in the past decade.

In architecture and engineering jobs, Black workers only make up 5% of the workforce.

STEM jobs are projected to continue to grow faster than non-STEM jobs, and the average STEM employee earns more than most workers in non-STEM occupations.

The number of Black workers in STEM, however, hasn't changed since 2016, despite nationwide efforts to increase diversity in these sectors.

In this guide, we'll note some promising trends for Black and African American students in STEM. We'll also cover particular challenges these students face while pursuing STEM degrees and share helpful resources.

Promising Trends for Black Students in STEM

The United Negro College Fund reports that 25% of Black students who graduate with STEM degrees come from historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs).

Black and African American students who attend HBCUs are approximately 5-10% more likely to earn a STEM degree than those who attend predominantly white colleges.

Challenges for Black Students in STEM

Low Expectations

Fifty-four percent of Black Americans surveyed by the Pew Research Center believe more Black students would pursue STEM degrees if there were more visible examples of Black high achievers in these fields. This lack of representation in STEM professions has meant that Black students may be less likely to pursue STEM degrees. Students feel discouraged. Black students also report the dismissive attitudes, mistreatment, and microaggressions they have encountered and being told they don't belong in STEM classes.

Low Enrollment

The number of Black students enrolled in STEM is falling. For various reasons — discrimination, income inequality, and a decline in affirmative action programs — African American enrollment in STEM disciplines began to drop over the last several years. In 2018, only 7% of STEM bachelor's degree earners were Black, and only 9% of African Americans work in STEM fields, according to the Pew Research Center.

Barriers That Affect Academic Performance

The Pew Center for Research reports that many African Americans see STEM professions as only "somewhat welcoming" to Black professionals. Similarly, Black college students often struggle to see a place for themselves in STEM fields. Many report feeling excluded and unrepresented. Due to barriers that include anti-Black racism, many African American students do not feel a sense of belonging in STEM disciplines. This tends to affect their academic performance.

Programs at HBCUs That Support Black Students in STEM

  • Spelman College: This all-women's HBCU has helped to increase the number of Black women in STEM through the Women in STEM Summer Bridge Accelerator (WiSTEM). A free six-week program, WiSTEM provides support to incoming college students. They get help preparing for college while also earning college credit and research and college prep opportunities.
  • Howard University: Howard offers a wealth of resources to attract STEM majors. In 2017, Howard partnered with Google to develop Howard West, a program to prepare Black students for tech careers. Howard aims to increase the number of minorities who've earned a Ph.D. or a combined MD/Ph.D. in a STEM field through the Karsh STEM Scholars Program for high-achieving high school students.
  • Alabama State University: ASU is a public university that offers S-STEM, a program that helps improve retainment of students from underserved backgrounds. Also, the Minority Science and Engineering Improvement Program provides professional development workshops and scholarship programs. It also allows students to conduct hands-on research projects.
  • Prairie View A&M University: PVAMU was recently awarded a $1 million grant, in partnership with Johns Hopkins University, to enhance students' preparation in STEM fields for matriculation into competitive doctoral programs. This initiative, known as Cultivating Undergraduates for STEM Ph.D.s, will provide scholarships, training, and mentorships.
Learn more about the Blacks in Technology Foundation

5 Scholarships for Black Students in STEM

The American Association of Blacks in Energy Scholarships

Who Is Eligible?: The American Association of Blacks in Energy (AABE) awards over $350,000 in scholarships each year to underrepresented undergraduates (African American, Hispanic, and Native American) in energy-related disciplines. Prospective applicants can read the organization's Scholarship Application Rating Handbook to learn how AABE rates these scholarships.
Application Deadline: March 2023
Scholarship Amount: Varies


EPP/MSI Undergraduate Scholarship Program

Who Is Eligible?: : This scholarship program serves students enrolled in Minority Serving Institutions, funding two years of undergraduate coursework to rising juniors pursuing STEM degrees. Scholarship recipients receive paid summer internships to conduct research at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Application Deadline: January 2023
Scholarship Amount: Up to $45,000


The Gates Millennium Scholars Program

Who Is Eligible?: Funded by a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the GMS program grants scholarships to outstanding students of color pursuing undergraduate degrees in any area of interest.
Application Deadline: January 2023
Scholarship Amount: Varies


The Science Systems and Applications, Inc. Underrepresented Student Scholarship

Who Is Eligible?: SSAI's scholarship program awards $2,000 to college juniors and seniors studying science and engineering. Applicants must come from underrepresented backgrounds, hold U.S. citizenship, and have membership to the Society of Physics Students.
Application Deadline: March 2023
Scholarship Amount: $2,000


American Meteorological Society Scholarship for Underserved Communities

Who Is Eligible?: Formerly called the AMS Minority Scholarship, this program gives two-year scholarships to freshmen students of color who have been traditionally underrepresented in the sciences.
Application Deadline: March 2023
Scholarship Amount: $6,000

Additional Resources for Black Students in STEM

A number of HBCUs offer STEM summer camps geared toward Black high school students. They include Bowie State University, Coppin State University, Morgan State University, Prairie View A&M, Tennessee State University, and Xavier University of Louisiana. These programs vary from three-day camps to residential camps lasting up to two weeks. High school students not only get the chance to spend time on college campuses, but they also can connect with college students who are majoring in STEM areas.

This initiative mentors college students worldwide, preparing them for professional success. Each student in this program engages online in a short-term mentorship with a technology professional to develop soft skills, plan their career, and establish a professional network via LinkedIn.

This nonprofit organization has awarded over $300 million in scholarships and financial aid to students and member-schools.

UNCF, also known as the United Fund, is a nonprofit that funds scholarships for Black students at 37 HBCUs. STEM students can visit the organization's website to learn more about the UNCF STEM Scholars program.

NAMEPA is a network of higher education professionals who for over 40 years has worked to attract, retain, and graduate engineers from historically underrepresented minority populations.

The Library of Congress' resource guide on African American inventors and STEM professionals lists books, biographies, and online resources. Learn about the only African American automobile company and Black women mathematicians who worked with NASA, among a variety of other African American STEM leaders.

Hosted by a molecular biologist and a materials scientist and engineer, Dope Labs covers a range of scientific, social justice, and academic topics for underrepresented people of color. Dr. Zakiya Whatley and Dr. Titi Shodiya's topics include the origins and history of space exploration, Juneteenth celebrations, and biodiversity and conservation.

The APS has compiled a list of internships, scholarships, and fellowships for minorities and women pursuing STEM degrees. Award opportunities include scholarships for Black physicists, minorities in engineering, African American science researchers, and minority first-year students pursuing careers in atmospheric, oceanic, or hydrologic sciences.

This nonprofit supports Black professionals and students — from pre-college, in grades 3-12, to college, including graduate students — in technology and engineering fields. Founded in 1975 at Purdue University, NSBE has more than 500 chapters in six geographic regions. Members of NSBE can gain access to a network of diverse engineers and scientists, scholarships, job placement opportunities, career fairs, and more.

Explore BestColleges' Diversity in STEM resources

Frequently Asked Questions About Black and African American Students in STEM

How many students in STEM are Black?

According to the most recent data available, Black students earned 7% of STEM bachelor's degrees in 2018. The decline in African American college students who major in STEM mirrors the low number of Black professionals who work in STEM fields. The Pew Research Center reports that 9% of STEM professionals are Black or African American.

How can we support Black students in STEM?

Share resources and create diverse reading lists and classroom resources that mirror Black lives. Show students examples of high-achieving Black and African American STEM professionals throughout history. Teach them about Black scientists like Mae Carol Jemison, Katherine Johnson, George Washington Carver, and many others who have achieved and normalized Black excellence in STEM.

Are numbers growing for Black students pursuing STEM fields?

The National Science Foundation reports that between 2001 and 2016, the number of Black students earning bachelor's degrees in math decreased from around 7% to about 4%. In engineering, the number decreased from almost 5% to under 4%. The rates have remained at around 10% for Black graduates in science during this time.

In 2016, underrepresented minorities earned 13% of STEM master's degrees. This is an increase since 2001 when these students earned around 11% of STEM master's degrees. Students from underrepresented backgrounds earned just under 9% of STEM doctoral degrees in 2016, an increase of around 2 percentage points since 2001.