Enthusiasm for math, science may bring Hispanics into high-tech

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

It was called ''Hispanic Megatrends,'' and it was full of the megapotential of that fast-growing minority group. But how to extract that potential - in business, technology, education, and health care - is the problem that more than 1,000 Hispanic politicians, academics, and community leaders spent three days discussing at the National Hispanic University's second annual convocation.

Hispanic attitudes toward math and science, as well as a lack of emphasis in those subjects in schools, could lock out young Hispanics from the high-technology revolution, many participants said.

The convocation zeroed in on how to develop Hispanic potential in business, technology, education, and health care. Participants noted these problems:

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* Hispanic youngsters and their parents perceive math and science as dull or hard subjects that are for white males.

* Science and math teaching is often boring and uninventive - a problem that would keep most children, of any ethnicity, from being interested.

* Hispanics are often encouraged to pursue vocational training rather than math and science. With rapid advances in science, even at a high school level, a student not on a college track from the beginning may not have the time to catch up.

''You have to make these career decisions yourself . . . decide yourself that you have to take these hard courses now,'' Ray Garcia told the youngsters at the convocation. Mr. Garcia owns Strategic Management Services in Wayne, Pa. His company's 1982 survey of Hispanic 9th and 10th graders in three cities showed that few had ever heard of engineering. Of those who had, ''none thought of it as a desirable career,'' he said of the survey, taken for Westinghouse Electric Corporation.

''But when they heard engineers are in a $25,000 bracket right out of school, and what engineers actually do, they showed interest,'' Garcia says. However, they still bridled at the idea of four years of difficult college courses.

In addition, for parents, ''engineering was not a dream career for their children,'' he explains. Parents in the Miami-New York-Los Angeles survey envisioned their children becoming doctors or lawyers, respected positions perceived as more achievable than engineering.

The survey, he said, shows that the family unit - strong in the Hispanic culture - can be used to channel support for children's career choices.

Industry, he adds, should better inform counselors about job opportunities. And finally, role models must be developed for children whose heroes are entertainment stars. ''Have you ever seen a movie starring an engineer (as the main character)?'' he asks.

Joyce Blueford, a geologist with the US Geological Survey (USGS), says educators have to make up their minds that ''Hispanics can do science.'' Dr. Blueford conducts science workshops in San Francisco-area schools, and she says administrators consistently try to channel her into the gifted-children's classes - composed largely of white, middle-class children - and away from those students, like Hispanics, which administrators perceive are not interested in science.

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