What would you say if I told you that economic projections point to the need for approximately 1 million more STEM professionals than the U.S. will be able to produce at the current rate over the next decade? What would you say if I told you that last year, 54 percent of unfilled jobs in South Carolina required more than a high school degree and less than a four-year degree, but less than 28 percent of South Carolina residents meet those qualifications? This means that we as a collective team must do what we can to prepare our team members for success if we want our team to be successful.
A team consists of multiple members from different backgrounds who carry out a multitude of functions to accomplish a singular goal. When we as a team (the state of South Carolina) equip our players (South Carolina residents) with the necessary equipment to meet their goals and fulfill the demands ahead of us, we all succeed together.
This is the background behind initiatives that seek to increase the persistence and success of minority males attending technical colleges, specifically African-American males. Data shows that nearly 71 percent of African-American males who enroll in a public institution of higher education begin their path in a two-year college. However, only 5 percent of these students obtain a degree, diploma or certificate within two to three years of their attendance.
In cases like these, strategic retention strategies are needed for both the student and the institution. Two strategies that have proven quite effective in turning the tide are the unique combination of exposure and a fraternal experience. Technical colleges provide numerous opportunities for men to gain hands-on access to growing STEM-related career fields such as mechatronics, construction-engineering technology, graphic design, automotive and numerous health science options that can quickly expose them to the realities of the job market and academic requirements. Progressive programs that reach minority males not only expose students to the in-house options but also they build direct relationships with community and industry partners.
A successful fraternal experience focuses on creating a brotherhood or “fellowship of the ring,” so to speak. Those men — regardless of color — who discover this vital resource find the strength to overcome the burden of transitioning from boys to men, overcoming the feeling of being an outsider and gaining access to resources, all while experiencing their own culture. The outcome of the effective combination of exposure and the fraternal experience creates significant gains in professional, academic and life skills that develop powerful members of our future state team.
At Greenville Technical College, our African-American Male Leadership Institute (AAMLI) was established to combat the barriers that can significantly hinder academic progress. These include a criminal record, poverty and being a first-generation student. AAMLI serves as a mentorship incubator that provides resources, relationships and experiences to empower and launch men into accelerated roles in college, the community and society. Benefits include college tours, community service, conferences and academic resources.
The initiative is seeing results. During the 2015-16 academic year, there were 10 active members of the organization. The persistence rate for this group from fall semester to spring semester was 80 percent, and the retention rate from one academic year to the next was 90 percent. During the three previous academic years, the retention rate for active members was 100 percent.
How do we achieve those results? Our students have plenty of reasons to consider dropping out. We work to give them reasons to stay by engaging with them on a regular basis. One weekend, for example, our students completed an assessment of their personal strengths and then hiked at Paris Mountain as they discussed the results. These students, many of whom are working as they attend college classes, have also volunteered as part of the college’s Habitat build, traveled to Atlanta and other cities to see black historical sites and participated in movie, games and men’s night-out activities.
Through these efforts, we are building South Carolina’s STEM team as we give our students tools for success on campus, in their careers and in their lives. Our hope is to perfect this model and then replicate it across the state. If you are interested in learning more about AAMLI, serving as a mentor or supporting the initiative through a donation, please contact me at [email protected].