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Commentary: Open the doors for students with state-run public STEM school in LA

Guest Contributors | August 21, 2017

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Francisco C. Rodriguez, left, is the chancellor of the Los Angeles Community College District, and Thomas F. Rosenbaum is president of Caltech. (Courtesy)

By Francisco C. Rodriguez and Thomas F. Rosenbaum 

We oversee two very different institutions. The Los Angeles Community College District is a network of community colleges that serves 250,000 students of all ages. The California Institute of Technology is a private university in Pasadena, with a few thousand undergraduates and graduate students dedicated to exploring science and engineering.

Despite their differences, both our institutions share a desire to help diversify the study of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). That’s why, earlier this year, we joined with two dozen other organizations and advocates to support the California State STEM School, inspired by 14 other states that have specialized state STEM public schools across the country. If approved by the California State Legislature as AB 1217 this fall, the school would prepare talented students from Los Angeles’ most under-resourced communities to pursue scientific learning and careers.  

The California State STEM School would join a district rich with new opportunities to study STEM. Its inclusive and encompassing model would allow students to receive instruction from certified teachers, university professors and industry experts. It would be able to provide professional development and other support for all LAUSD STEM teachers so that district teachers and students could benefit. Rather than relying on grade- or test-based admissions, like many magnets, or on lotteries or neighborhood zones, like charter and district schools, the state STEM school would be able to seek out talented students from every background, and importantly those who are underrepresented in the STEM fields. 

As our population has become increasingly diverse, the most dynamic sectors of our economy have not followed suit. Black and Latino people represent only 6.4 percent and 6.5 percent of the STEM workforce, respectively. It is imperative that students with the capacity and interest in STEM fields have access to the proper instruction and inspiration. 

Our organizations work hard to develop graduates who contribute to the STEM fields and even help create new industries. Caltech faculty have created more than 80 companies, and the Institute is one of Los Angeles County’s top 15 private employers, with more than 8,000 scientists, engineers and support staff. The LACCD schools draw 80 percent of our enrollment from historically underserved communities, offer affordable higher education and help our students access further learning and career opportunities in STEM fields.

To continue this impact, we need brilliant students drawn from all sectors of society. We need to be places of possibility for all students. Los Angeles is the natural place to lead the way in upholding the values of inclusion, innovation, and excellence.

The path to a successful undergraduate, graduate and lifelong career in STEM begins well before college. We hope the California Legislature and the Los Angeles school board will see the value in creating as many paths for our city’s students as possible.

Francisco C. Rodriguez is the chancellor of the Los Angeles Community College District. Thomas F. Rosenbaum is president of Caltech.


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