A case study analysis of minority students' negotiation of STEM, racial/ethnic, and graduate student identities

Brittini R Brown, Purdue University

Abstract

In order for the United States to retain its prominence in the global economy and meet workforce demands, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology report an estimated need to produce one million more United States STEM professionals in the next decade, a 34% increase over current rates. As the demographic composition of the U.S. continues to shift, it is also critical that many of the individuals filling these STEM occupations are from URM groups as non-Hispanic whites will be outnumbered by 2035 and Latino Americans and African Americans will become the collective majority by 2050. Experts suggest that transitioning STEM baccalaureate recipients to graduate study at leading research universities is critical as these students will contribute to STEM research and spearhead the nation’s STEM efforts. Recently, a small body of literature has begun to explore identity and its influence on the persistence of URM graduate students pursuing STEM degrees. The purpose of this study was to explore the negotiation of STEM, racial/ethnic, and graduate student identities among URM graduate students pursuing STEM degrees at a predominantly white research institution. Further, this study sought to explore the role of mentoring and campus climate in the negotiation of STEM, racial/ethnic, and graduate student identities.^ This study was guided by six research questions, two topical questions which provided context about the university where the study was conducted, and four questions which focused on how students negotiated and made meaning of their multiple identities as well as the role of campus climate and mentoring in the negotiation process. Two theoretical perspectives informed the study, Institutional Agents Framework and Intersectionality. Two rounds of interviews were conducted with 10 URM graduate students pursuing STEM degrees at a predominantly white research institution. Topic and pattern coding were used to analyze data utilizing NVivo qualitative data analysis software. There were five conclusions for the study. First, race/ethnicity was the single most influential factor in how the study participants behaved and interacted with URM and non-URM peers and faculty. Second, faculty and peer mentors proved to be critical not only in helping students to negotiate their STEM, racial/ethnic, and graduate student identities, but also in providing the instrumental and psychosocial support necessary to help the participants succeed academically. Third, institutional support programs were critical to shaping the perception of campus climate for URM graduate students in the STEM disciplines. Fourth, URM graduate students in STEM understand and make meaning of their STEM and graduate student identities absent from their racial/ethnic identity. Fifth, participants encountered difficulty with the notion of negotiating their STEM, racial/ethnic, and graduate student identities and often opted to engage in a practice called code-shifting ^

Degree

Ph.D.

Advisors

Levon T. Esters, Purdue University.

Subject Area

Higher education

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