Johnnetta B. Cole; Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz
National Museum of African Art; Department of Energy

President Barack Obama’s administration is continuing a focused push to get more African Americans into the technology and energy sectors.

The Department of Energy launched the Minorities in Energy Initiative in 2013 during National Hispanic Heritage Month, and on Wednesday the department sponsored a Minorities in Energy Initiative event at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African Art to discuss the “art of science” and the importance of minority participation in both the art and science fields.  

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Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz and Johnnetta B. Cole, former president of Spelman and Bennett colleges and the museum’s current director, spoke to The Root about the issue.

“The Department of Energy is celebrating Black History Month and choosing to do so by focusing on the need to increase the number of people of color in STEM fields—science, technology, engineering and mathematics,” said Cole.

“Spelman and Bennett College, along with other women’s colleges, are doing a far better job of preparing women of color for STEM and for the arts—and that tells us that at women’s colleges, where there is far less of an assumption about what women can do, women do what they can do,” she said.

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The goal of getting more minorities engaged in the booming fields of technology, science and math is an intricate one without a quick fix. But the Obama administration’s efforts coincide with a growing need to fill private-sector STEM-related jobs that many times go unfilled because of a lack of qualified applicants.

Moniz was asked if there is a “magic number” he was looking to hit that would signal the initiative’s success.  

“In terms of numbers, we all have our dreams. But I think the scale to keep in mind is that the energy industry is predicting several million jobs added over the next decade. That’s not including the turnover of a pretty aged workforce of today,” he said. 

“Basically what we’d like to see is that the workforce being added is selective of the talent pool that we have. By definition the scale is a million, not a hundred or a thousand or 10,000 over this period. That’s a pretty big lift. It starts in many ways which are beyond our capacity—like the fundamentals of the education system, for example. But we will do our part,” Moniz added.

The secretary noted that there are eight different cities where the Petroleum Institute is working with African Americans and Hispanics on entering the energy arena. 

The administration’s effort, much like its My Brother’s Keeper initiative, is the type of idea that appears situated to blossom a decade or so from now, rather than overnight.

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“I think we have to have a 10- to 20-year horizon. It’s the old story that the best time to have planted a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is today. In that 10- to 20-year time frame, we’d like to see a very different-looking workforce,” Moniz concluded.

Lauren Victoria Burke is a Washington, D.C.-based political reporter who writes the Crew of 42 blog. She appears regularly on NewsOne Now with Roland Martin on TV One. Follow her on Twitter