In what is becoming a national trend, leading businesses and education groups are launching new initiatives aimed at increasing the number of minorities–and Hispanics in particular–in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields.

For instance, IBM held an international summit May 5-6 that brought together business, education, government, and community leaders to discuss ways to increase the number of Hispanic students pursuing careers in STEM fields across the United States.

The summit came less than a week after the National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering (NACME) issued research about the relative absence of African-Americans, American Indians, and Hispanics in STEM-related fields.

IBM’s summit, called “America’s Competitiveness: Hispanic Participation in Technology Careers,” aimed to address this gap, which conference leaders said could affect U.S. competitiveness in an increasingly global market.

“The Hispanic community is one of the fastest growing in the country, and young Latinos are rapidly joining our workforce,” said U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J. “It is important that they have the option to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and math, not only so they can fully develop their potential, but also so they can become professionals in areas that are vital to our economy, our security, [and] our future as a nation.”

During the summit, participants discussed two reports commissioned by the IBM International Foundation–one from the Tomás Rivera Policy Institute (TRPI), and one from Public Agenda–which outline the challenges and opportunities to the nation’s Hispanic community in the pursuit of STEM careers.

The Public Agenda study, “A Matter of Trust,” reveals anxiety about attaining a college education among nine of 10 young Hispanic adult households.

In the study, nearly half of Hispanic parents say it’s a serious problem that students are not taught enough math and science; Hispanic parents say they’re more likely to support making sure U.S. standards match those in Japan and Europe; and less than half of young Hispanic adults believe that qualified students can find a way to pay for college.

“Education, and higher education in particular, are even more highly prized and respected among Hispanic parents than among parents in general, despite some erroneous conventional wisdom to the contrary,” said study authors Paul Gasbarra and Jean Johnson of Public Agenda.  “Overall … far too many Hispanic families are underserved by public education–and to a significantly greater degree than the general population.”