Black College Students’ Choice of STEM Major: An Analysis of their Perceptions and Experiences in their Intended STEM Pathways
Bentley, Lydia Claire
My research questions pertain to (1) how Black undergraduate students—who were interested in STEM at college entrance—perceive influences on their choice of a STEM or non-STEM major and (2) to how students’ lived experiences in STEM appear to have challenged their success in their intended postsecondary STEM pathways. In exploring the answers to these questions, I focused on students in two different contexts—a historically Black college (HBCU) and a predominantly White institution (PWI). In addition, I traced out the racialized nature of students’ experiences and uncovered ways that STEM structures (e.g., instructional practices) seemed to be impacting their academic choice processes. Using qualitative interview methodology, I uncovered several findings. STEM structures formed barriers to the expression of certain students’ values that, in turn, dissuaded them from persisting in STEM. Introductory course expectations appeared to reify racialized inequalities in pre-college educational access. Some students’ lack of access to effective college STEM supports in the areas of instruction and academic advising was compounded by unequal access to compensatory, informal, STEM supports which were dispensed along racial lines. Microaggressions in STEM spaces were evident on both PWI and HBCU campuses, though HBCU students more frequently revealed how their STEM professors at times marginalized them because of their gender, nationality, and assumed class identities. Based on these findings, I offer a series of recommendations for how undergraduate STEM programs might be more supportive of equity and diversity with respect to Black undergraduate students.