Before we had high-powered science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, academic departments with fancy laboratories, there was just teacher, student and basic apprenticeship.

At Xavier University of Louisiana, as the STEM departments evolve, these same concepts of strong mentorship and applied learning keep Xavier president Reynold Verret oriented.

“If you think about STEM, the training and the education of a scientist or an engineer is like an apprenticeship from the Middle Ages,” Verret said. “You go and work with the Master and the Master will give you a rock and you will chisel that rock. And then he will give you a bigger rock. And he will say ‘Go. You’re good enough. Leave.’”

To Verret, a biochemist by training, the same concept applies to Xavier’s STEM students. Regardless of the background they come from, if the students have strong mentors and plenty of opportunities to work closely with them, they will be able to succeed.

Xavier’s effort for inclusion and support in STEM majors bucks patterns of segregation by college major that are typically made worse by colleges, according to a new report from the Economic Security and Opportunity Initiative at the Georgetown Center on Poverty and Inequality. The report examines what researchers call “field of study segregation,” or the shares of different demographic groups that pursue different college majors.

And Xavier, a historically Black university, may be one of few exceptions. The report found that, typically, by the time students enroll and declare majors, they are already segregated by race and gender, and they tend to graduate in similar patterns, with few changes. For example, the report says that women are less likely than men to earn degrees in STEM, and Black women are “structurally excluded” from fields like business, computer science and engineering. And when students transfer out of their initial field of study, the problem worsens. Over the past 30 years, the authors found that college major segregation between women of color and white men has increased.

“Field of study segregation by race and gender limits who has access to higher paying occupations,” said Laura Tatum, senior director at the Georgetown Center on Poverty and Inequality, and one of the authors of the report. “But our postsecondary system does little to interrupt that, and graduates remain segregated across fields of study by gender and race. And that actually gets worse in some ways during the course of postsecondary education.”

Colleges alone don’t cause occupational segregation, but the authors said that addressing segregation among college majors could help address the issue at large.

Read the full article about occupational segregation by Olivia Sanchez at The Hechinger Report.