Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award

2021

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)

Department

Abraham S. Fischler College of Education

Advisor

Charlene Desir

Committee Member

Jennifer Reeves

Abstract

This applied dissertation was designed to provide a better understanding of the lived experiences of African American women in STEM undergraduate degree programs at a 4-year degree granting institution in the southernmost part of central Virginia. The central problem is that there is disparity between the number of African American women with STEM degrees and that of other races in the STEM job market. The existing literature has gaps in the research of African American women’s perception of undergraduate STEM programs. Further, the researcher posits there is a lack of consideration for diversity that is detrimental to the United States; the STEM labor force was identified as a critical field to sustain the country’s economic growth and national security.

The research addressed the lived experiences of African American women in undergraduate STEM degree programs. The findings could provide an association with the low enrollment and retention of African American women in STEM. The study utilized the social cognitive career theory, the interpretative phenomenological analysis process, and the meaning-making of African American women’s lived experiences that enable them to persist and attain their STEM undergraduate degrees. This study applied a qualitative phenomenology method guided by the central research question: What are the critical experiences that influence the lived experiences of African American females in STEM undergraduate programs?

The findings of the study reflected that there are five significant themes that contribute to the lived experiences of African American women in undergraduate STEM degree programs: (a) Living in my skin and bringing emotions in the STEM program; (b) Persistence despite family context: Understanding family make-up and its role in sustaining motivation to remain in STEM; (c) Expectations and misconceptions in the academic environment; d) Support mechanisms while in the STEM program; and (e) Identifying needs for professors and mentors who are of the same race and gender and to increase transparency of financial resources to support African American women in STEM. The participants in the study recognized that implementing transformational practices such as (a) increasing funding for the marketing and recruitment of African American female students in STEM; (b) increasing the number of African American women professors and mentors in STEM courses; and (c) providing mental health and wellness support mechanisms are necessary measures that could address the critical shortage of African American women in STEM.

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