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Ohio study: State must do more to bring minorities, women into innovation economy

by Laura Tomaka ~ January 2015 ~ Stateline Midwest »
For more than a decade, in part through its groundbreaking Third Frontier initiative, the state of Ohio has been placing a greater emphasis on policies that nurture entrepreneurship and expand its technology-based economy. But in a November 2014 study, an Ohio Board of Regents panel suggests that the state needs a new focus: finding a way to involve more individuals from underrepresented groups, including minorities, women and people from rural areas, in the innovation economy.
“Ohio still has a long way to go,” notes Regent Patricia Ackerman, who served as chair of the board’s Inclusive Competitiveness Subcommittee.
And Ohio certainly isn’t alone. Across the country, women, blacks and Hispanics are underrepresented in STEM-related fields. (See accompanying table. STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and math and is often associated with jobs in the technology-based economy.)
“An array of intentional strategies must be designed and implemented yesterday to attract, connect and nurture the potential of target populations within the underrepresented groups,” Ackerman says.
Examples of the under-representation in Ohio include data showing that:
• women’s share of college degrees in engineering and the computer sciences is less than 20 percent, and
• of all bachelor’s degrees in the STEM fields, only 6 percent are held by blacks and 2 percent by Hispanics.
To close these and other gaps, the Board of Regents’ study highlights a number of the “intentional strategies” that the state could pursue.
One idea, for example, is to improve outreach under Third Frontier: the state’s $2.1 billion initiative that aims to expand university- and technology-led research and innovation. The Third Frontier Commission is already required to target minority and rural populations, but Ackerman questions the effectiveness of this outreach to date. One idea, then, would be for the legislature to conduct an audit; another would be to mandate that a percentage of Third Frontier funding be earmarked for outreach to underrepresented populations.
The Board of Regents’ study also calls for continued or expanded state support for two existing programs.
The first is the Choose Ohio First scholarships, which awards colleges and state businesses with programs that recruit and retain students in STEM fields. Some of those programs specifically target underrepresented groups. (The Ohio General Assembly created the scholarships.)
The second is Believe in Ohio, which promotes STEM education and an entrepreneurial mindset among high school students. It gives young people the chance to receive mentoring from professionals in the STEM fields, as well as to compete for awards and scholarships by creating their own STEM commercialization and entrepreneurship plans.

 

Article written by Laura Tomaka, CSG Midwest staff liaison for the Midwestern Legislative Conference Economic Development Committee.