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Title:Undergraduate African American women's narratives on persistence in science majors at a PWI
Author(s):Mcpherson, Ezella
Director of Research:Trent, William T.
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Trent, William T.
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Parker, Laurence J.; Jarrett, Robin L.; Baber, Lorenzo D.
Department / Program:Education Policy, Organization & Leadership
Discipline:Educational Policy Studies
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):African American Women
science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM)
Abstract:While African American women are one of the largest growing populations in college, they continue to be underrepresented in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields at predominantly white institutions (PWIs) (Bowen, Chingos, & McPherson, 2009; Jordan, 2006; National Science Foundation, 2007, 2009; Warren, 1998). Some African American women depart science majors, due to school tracking or the leaky pipeline (Blickenstaff, 2005; Bowen, et al., 2009; Jordan, 2006; Oakes, 2005; Rist, 2002). Those African American women who are able to commit to hard science majors have positive self-concepts and form science identities (Gilmartin, Li, & Aschbacher, 2006; Hill, Pettus, & Hedin, 1990; Jordan, 2006). However, these ongoing problems in the previous literature serve as explanations for the underrepresentation of African American women in hard science majors at PWIs. This multiple case research study addresses the gap in the literature on women in STEM fields by employing Black Feminist Thought (see Collins, 2000) along with the concepts of cultural capital (see Bourdieu, 1984, Yosso, 2006), commitment (Locke, Latham, & Erez, 1988), and science identity formation (see Carlone & Johnson, 2007) to examine the persistence of 16 African American women pursuing hard science majors. Using interviews and journal entries, this multiple case research study explored the differences in availability of resources, access to cultural capital, science identity formation, and adversity faced by undergraduate African American women pursuing hard science majors. The main findings from this study were that African American women who persisted in hard science majors had individual interests, support from the home environment, took high school math or science courses that aligned with Town University’s introductory level math and/or science classes. They also learned how to navigate through the science curriculum and committed to the hard science major or a career in a STEM field. Forming partial science identities and having access to traditional and non-traditional forms of cultural capital explained why some African American women remained in hard science majors as well. By overcoming adversity in the science culture, some African American women persisted and thus committed to engaging in hard science majors at Town University. This research contributes to the field of higher education by informing policymakers and researchers about some approaches to facilitate the retention and graduation of African American women in hard science majors throughout the K-16 pipeline. Additionally, it, enriches the literature by employing multiple frameworks (e.g., Black Feminist Thought, cultural capital, science identity formation, commitment) to understand the persistence of African American women in science majors at Town University. Future research studies might examine the persistence of other underrepresented students across multiple institutions in hard science majors using qualitative and quantitative methods.
Issue Date:2012-09-18
Rights Information:Copyright 2012 Ezella May McPherson
Date Available in IDEALS:2012-09-18
Date Deposited:2012-08

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