Social Media and STEM Diversity: How minority doctoral students are incorporating social media to drive STEM diversity


By: Simone B. Soso, Ph.D., NSF INCLUDES Coordination Hub

Accelerating the processes of broadening participation in STEM through collaboration is the foundation of the NSF INCLUDES National Network. In this blog post, four Ph.D. students share how they are using social media to connect, recruit, and retain diverse populations in STEM.

Funded through the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health, these graduate students created platforms on Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and YouTube to show the world what diversity in STEM looks like. They are working to advance diversity and engagement in STEM education and careers to create a diverse workforce. These unique and driven students developed organizations and opportunities to connect and support NSF awardees and others in the STEM pipeline. Learn how they adapt and push the NSF mission to broaden participation utilizing social media.

Coordination Hub: How are you addressing the needs of minorities in STEM communities through social media?

Kristal.pngKristal Gant: As I progress through my own STEM journey, I realize that there are not many motivational and encouraging resources available to me as I pursue my STEM PhD. I wondered if that was the case for anyone else, so I and two other Black women founded STEMming PhorwarD to highlight the perspectives of underrepresented minorities (URMs) in their STEM journey. We use Instagram, Facebook, and LinkedIn to spread our message, and we aim to provide a supportive network for URMs in STEM. Aside from that, I also use my personal social media accounts to discuss issues with my friends and get their insight on current dilemmas they themselves are facing at their respective institutions. 

Coordination Hub: Which organizations focused on broadening participation in STEM do you actively participate in?

Kristal Gant: I serve as a mentor in the summer program for Wisconsin Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (WiscAMP) on the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s campus. WiscAMP is an alliance of 18 colleges and universities across Wisconsin working collectively to increase the number of underrepresented minority students who complete their baccalaureate degrees in STEM disciplines, pursue graduate degrees in STEM, and persist in STEM career pathways.  We are currently finalizing a virtual workshop for scholars on how to navigate their academic career in a COVID world. I have also co-presented to URMs at other colleges, most recently to LSAMP scholars at Columbus State University as a part of STEMming PhorwarD.

Coordination Hub
How do you think using social media to broaden participation in STEM can demonstrate the need for diversity in STEM and attract people of different backgrounds (i.e., various ages, STEM disciplines, professional levels) to adapt an inclusive mindset?

Kaylee.pngKaylee Arnold: Social media can show the broader (white, cis, straight, non-disabled members) STEM community that there is already wide diversity amongst people interested in STEM. The lack of diversity in STEM is not due to a lack of interest but rather specific policies and societal structures that have prevented many minoritized scientists from top positions. The social media events that I have organized and participated in have highlighted hundreds of scientists and kids interested in STEM. We are here; we just need support.

Coordination HubCan you share a recent project with an inclusive message to the broader STEM ecosystem? What were the key goals and activities?  Did it incorporate social media?

Kaylee Arnold: While I was the coordinator for EcoReach, a K-12 environmental science outreach organization, we spent a lot of time rethinking our approach to outreach and reprioritizing which schools we would work with. We wanted to make sure that our outdoor education and after-school science activities were equitable. We spent more time at the most under-resourced schools that had the greatest populations of Black, Latinx, and Indigenous students. We recently started a “Backyard Critter” social media campaign. It encourages exploration in the students’ backyards, focuses on urban ecology, promotes the idea that a person doesn’t need to go to an inaccessible park or nature center to find wildlife, and showcases animals that our young students have photographed.

Coordination Hub
Why is social media an effective tool in reaching diverse audiences?

Adam M.A. Simpson: Simply, you must meet people where they are. According to this article from Pew  81% of all Americans use some form of social media; the platform with the largest usage is YouTube. Many communications scholars have demonstrated that out of all social media platforms, YouTube is associated with the greatest positive dispositions experienced by users. I want to reach the largest audience and impact them in a positive way, therefore I have chosen YouTube for my science communication home.

Coordination Hub: As a graduate student, do you find social media is an optimal way to connect with fellow grad students and build a network of resource sharing and opportunities? What are some examples of resources and opportunities you share on social media?

Adam M.A. Simpson: I am passionate about getting minority students to pursue higher education. I have therefore been a part of the Graduate Pathways to STEM initiative in the Bay Area, where graduate students at Stanford and UC Berkeley meet over a weekend to connect and mentor minoritized students on how to apply to graduate programs. I usually distribute my graduate school application guide for free at that meeting. I also teach workshops on writing personal statements and applying to graduate school at NSF-funded Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) programs and Stanford's equivalent through the School of Engineering, managed by Ms. Lourdes Andrade (Director of Diversity and Inclusion for the School of Engineering).

Coordination Hub
How can a network be effective in promoting retention of minorities in STEM?

Samantha Theresa Mensah: In 2020, I co-founded an organization called BlackinChem, which strives to improve recruitment and retention of Black people in the chemical sciences. Before BlackinChem, many of us could count on our hands how many Black scientists we knew. Now, there’s a community of us and we can support and cheer each other on. It’s so important when navigating an intense field such as chemistry to have a community of mentors and peers that look like you and can relate to the unique challenges you face in the field.