American Civic Life

Why STEM Fields Need DEI and Interfaith Education

By Mohammed Ba-Aoum
University students work on creating new products in innovation lab. (supersizer/Getty Images)

University students work on creating new products in innovation lab. (supersizer/Getty Images)

Science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education has traditionally emphasized the importance of technical skills and knowledge, but the increasing recognition of the importance of soft skills such as empathy, respect, sensitivity, and consideration for others has led to a greater emphasis on interfaith education.

However, the lack of inclusion of religious topics in STEM curricula has created challenges for students to connect their religious/non-religious identity with their professional identity, leading to feelings of alienation.  Research conducted by Seymour and Hewitt found that environmental factors play a crucial role in limiting retention and persistence in STEM fields, especially for minorities and women. Despite the proportion of women and underrepresented minorities enrolled in undergraduate STEM programs having increased since the 1980s, minimal progress has been made in recruiting and retaining them. To address this issue, programs that foster diversity, equity, and inclusion in STEM fields are necessary. 

In February 2023, as an Interfaith America Innovation Fellow I had the honor to organize an event that aimed to enhance Diversity, Equity & Inclusion in STEM fields by engaging the students in meaningful dialogue topics spanning the boundaries of STEM, interfaith, and social justice. The program was organized in collaboration with two student organization: Synergy Interfaith Collective and United Nation Association at Virginia Tech. Threeguest speakers, Dr. Sylvester A. Johnson, Dr. John Cressler, and Farah Siddiqui, provided valuable insights into the intersection between science, religion, and spirituality. Dr. Johnson’s talk on “Do Robots Have Souls?” interpreted the work of Ibn Rushd (“Averros”) to investigate modern, sensory-driven AI technology. Dr. Cressler discussed various perspectives on the relationship between science and religion, highlighting the importance of open-minded conversation and discussion. Farah Siddiqui’s talk on “Embracing Religious and Spiritual Diversity in the Workplace” shed light on the importance of creating an inclusive work environment.


Interfaith in a STEM Context at Virginia Tech, February 25, 2023. Photo courtesy of Mohammed Ba-Aoum

The program encouraged students to reflect on how their worldview could enhance their approach to STEM and how convergence could be found between these two areas instead of viewing them as conflicting or fragmented. The program facilitated meaningful dialogues among students and guest speakers, resulting in a better understanding of how to foster a diverse, equitable, and inclusive environment in STEM fields. 

Interfaith education can help STEM students to develop a more holistic understanding of the world around them. By exploring the intersection between science and religion, students can gain a deeper appreciation for the complexity and interconnectedness of different systems and processes. This can help to foster a more inclusive and collaborative approach to problem-solving in STEM fields. By incorporating interfaith education into STEM curricula, we can prepare students to be effective leaders in today’s globalized, technologically advanced world.  

Interfaith education can help STEM students to develop a more holistic understanding of the world around them.

It is crucial to embrace diversity and inclusion in STEM fields, not only for the benefit of the individual students but also for the benefit of society as a whole. By promoting open-minded conversation and discussion and fostering an inclusive culture that respects and celebrates diversity, businesses and educational institutions can create a welcoming and inclusive environment that fosters collaboration, innovation, and success. In today’s globalized workplace, it is increasingly important for STEM professionals to be able to work effectively with colleagues and clients from diverse backgrounds and belief systems. By gaining a deeper understanding of different religions and worldviews, STEM students can develop the cultural competency skills necessary to navigate these diverse environments. By promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion, and fostering an environment of open-minded dialogue and discussion, we can create a more welcoming and inclusive STEM culture that celebrates the diversity of all individuals and perspectives. 

Mohammed Ba-Aoum is a Virginia Tech (VT) Ph.D. candidate in Industrial and Systems Engineering. He founded the Synergy Interfaith Collective and the UN Association at VT. Prior to joining VT, he was a lecturer at King Fahd University and an ARAMCO project engineer. Mohammed has a master’s degree in industrial engineering and a master’s degree in social and cultural pedagogy from Arizona State University (ASU). During his time at ASU, he co-founded Better Together, another interfaith student organization.