Why 3D Printing Matters for Diversity in STEM

By on January 31st, 2024 in learning, news

Tags: ,

Students at school [Source: Pexels]

Science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) are key to our current way of life. There are a few aspects of work and home that aren’t in some way supported by advanced tech. It only makes sense, then, that such a vital field should be influenced by diverse professionals who represent all backgrounds. 

Yet, this doesn’t always reflect reality. The good news is that some emerging tech tools today are proving instrumental in improving diversity in STEM. 3D printing, in particular, helps address various hurdles that stand in the way of meaningful multicultural engagement. This is especially useful in education, where early connections to STEM are essential.

We’re going to dig a little deeper into this idea.

Why STEM Needs Diverse Voices

It’s not exactly news that professional STEM fields have a diversity issue. Though there have been some improvements in recent years, there is still some way to go. A recent Pew Research study found that Black and Hispanic workers are still underrepresented in all areas of STEM. There’s also skewed representation in the additive manufacturing industry. One report found that men make up 87% of 3D printing roles.

Diversity in STEM should be a priority because it opens STEM projects up to a wider range of perspectives, which can influence innovation. There is also significant potential for coding to be subject to the biases of its programmers. Diverse contributors are essential for minimizing this, which in turn reduces the influence of discriminatory algorithms on our already unequal society.

Given that one of the key challenges of diversity in STEM is barriers to education, part of the focus should be on boosting student participation from an early age. This is where 3D printing is becoming a particularly powerful tool. It keys into many of the factors that can influence greater student engagement — from encouraging curiosity to inviting independent research. By exploring the potential of 3D printing, educators and parents can create more impactful curriculums and learning environments.

Enabling Dynamic Learning Opportunities

The first aspect worth looking at is 3D printing’s potential for enabling dynamic learning opportunities. Let’s face it: STEM learning often has a reputation for being dull and largely theory-based, which can lead some students to think it’s not for them. On the most basic level, 3D printing can add exciting new dimensions to learning that boost diverse engagement, including:

  • Project-based learning: Yes, learning the theory behind STEM concepts is important. But it’s often more engaging and aids retention if the theory is folded into hands-on projects. 3D printing is an ideal candidate for this type of educational experience. Whether fabrication is the primary focus or just a component of a wider project, there are opportunities to discuss problems, debate solutions, produce items and test outcomes. 
  • Connects students to real-world challenges: “When am I going to use this in real life?” is a common complaint among students about STEM learning. 3D printing projects can enable students to address real-world practical problems. This could be as simple as printing customized cookie cutters for an event or as complex as developing tailored prosthetic devices. The accessibility and tolerability of 3D printing also mean educators can create projects that address the challenges most relevant to their specific student demographics. As a result, a more diverse range of students can see how 3D printing skills fit into their world, which may improve wider engagement with these STEM lessons.

The key is for educators to make 3D printing accessible for the subject to draw in a diverse audience. They can discuss what products of 3D printing could potentially help or improve their lives at home, and pick a project from there. 

From here, educators can tailor some lessons across the curriculum to involve 3D printing concepts and activities. For instance, geometry-focused classes can involve modeling components and engineering lessons can focus on printing and testing prototypes.

By the end of the semester, students can understand key educational topics that they may not have understood otherwise — something that will motivate them in their educational career in the future, as well.

A Tool to Foster Greater Inclusivity

3D printing is an excellent tool to foster greater inclusivity, helping diverse students find their place in STEM and enjoy enriching experiences.

Some of the hurdles 3D printing helps address include:

  • Socioeconomic barriers: STEM projects often require specific components and tools. In the past, this has meant that students from less privileged socioeconomic backgrounds faced barriers to learning due to their school’s and parent’s limited resources. 3D printing allows greater freedom to produce project components and even tailored tools using relatively affordable materials. 
  • Home education: Unfortunately, homeschooled students historically haven’t always had equal access to STEM projects, due to a lack of laboratory or tech resources. 3D printing projects, on the other hand, can take place at home as long as parents invest in affordable fabrication machines and software, educate themselves about safety protocols, and childproof the 3D printing area, such as a garage. This way, their children can participate safely at any time. 

Teachers and parents can have a greater impact by giving students the knowledge to use 3D printing to empower themselves. Discuss how they can use it to create the resources they may need in their everyday lives, from fidget spinners to mobility aids. This both boosts inclusivity in education and helps students to independently thrive when they transition to the adult world.


3D printing can be a great asset for diversity in STEM, particularly in education where early participation is vital. It enables a deeper engagement with STEM subjects while also being instrumental in breaking down barriers to inclusivity. That said, it’s important to remember that 3D printing isn’t a magic wand. Rather, it has to be a tool in a wider strategy for creating a STEM culture that supports contributors from all backgrounds.

By Indiana Lee

Indiana Lee is a writer and journalist from the Pacific Northwest with a passion for covering technological advancements, social justice, sustainability, and more. In her off time you can find her deep in the mountains with her two dogs. Follow her work on Twitter @indianalee3 or reach her at [email protected]

Leave a comment