Beyond Stock Stories and Folktales: African Americans' Paths to STEM Fields: Volume 11

Cover of Beyond Stock Stories and Folktales: African Americans' Paths to STEM Fields

Table of contents

(23 chapters)

This volume's birth sprang forth from a conference, “Beyond Stock Stories and Folktales: African Americans and the Pipeline to the Professoriate, An Evidence-based Examination of STEM Fields,” on the campus of Washington University in St. Louis, and was sponsored by that university and the National Science Foundation. Initially, the conference invitees were charged to focus on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields and African American males. In particular, as co-organizers, we sought to assemble a group of scholars to discuss the evidentiary base associated with programs, policy, and practices purported to positively influence STEM outcomes for African American males. Our concern for African American males emanated from policy analyses that characterized the plight of African American males in terms of personal and social cost–benefit terms. For instance, using California as a basis, one cost–benefit estimate of that state's educational attainment trends indicate that each additional Black male “expected high school graduate” will earn $520,000 more over his lifetime than a school dropout counterpart. In addition, the social gains associated with each expected Black male high school graduate was estimated to be $681,130. One can only imagine what those gains are when projections model Black males who have attained college degrees, and particularly advanced graduate degrees in specialized STEM fields. Our thinking as conference organizers evolved with respect to focusing all of the conference papers on African American males only. Specifically, our review of the literature suggested that a more careful examination of how STEM outcomes for African Americans were influenced by gender was warranted. To address this perspective, we also solicited contributions that included gender-based analyses, where commonalities and differences by gender in STEM pathways for African Americans might be highlighted and better understood.

The underrepresentation of racial minorities in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (the STEM disciplines) education and careers has had a very long tenure in America. For much of this nation's history, African-Americans, Latinos and American Indians, as well as women of all races, were considered to be members of sub-populations that had neither contributed nor were likely to contribute much to our national capabilities in science and technology and, consequently, little emphasis was placed on efforts to increase their participation. The truth is that all these groups have made significant contributions despite having to overcome monumental obstacles and difficulties.

This project focused on data from institutions graduating baccalaureate students who ultimately earned science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) doctorates in the sciences across a 15-year period. This project employed multiple regression and comparison of difference scores to identify colleges that produced comparatively high numbers of black bachelor's graduates who went on to earn STEM doctoral degrees. It identified colleges and universities that “overproduced” compared with peers and with predicted numbers of students of color who earned baccalaureate degrees and then went on to earn doctorates in STEM fields.

The pipeline to the professoriate in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields for African-Americans has been at best a leaky faucet. It is a common knowledge that if more African-Americans are to enter the professoriate, they must first graduate from four-year institutions in these fields. The literature is clear that historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) are uniquely positioned to increase the pipeline to the professoriate for this population even in the midst of questions concerning the viability of these institutions. As a result, this study examines a unique population (i.e., African-American, academically gifted, millennial students) in HBCUs to understand the factors that facilitate successful degree attainment. On the basis of the findings of this study, recommendations will be provided for several constituents to move this population through the pipeline to the professoriate.

Intervention strategies to increase participation and success in STEM areas vary depending on the specific goals of programs and presumably, their funding. Matyas (1991) focused on minority engineering programs and found that successful programs tend to contain the following elements: (a) assistance with admission procedures;, (b) assistance with student matriculation; (c) academic support services; (d) student study center; (e) linkage of students with minority student organizations in engineering; and (f) summer engineering jobs. A recent, systematic review by a panel of experts identified eight design principles that underpin exemplary and promising higher education-based STEM interventions: (a) institutional leadership; (b) targeted recruitment; (c) engaged faculty; (d) personal attention; (e) peer support; (f) enriched research experience; (g) bridging to the next level; and (h) continuous evaluation (BEST, 2004).

Academic self-concept refers to an individual's view of themselves in relation to school and their academic performance. For several years, researchers have examined the structure and components of academic self-concept (K. Cokley, 2002a; Guay, Larose, & Boivin, 2004; Marsh, Byrne, & Shavelson, 1988; McCoach, 2002). A considerable segment of this research has shown that academic self-concept is related to students' educational outcomes (Byrne, 1984; House, 2000). For example, House (2000) reported correlation coefficients demonstrating the relationship between academic self-concept and college students' participation in academic activities. Also, Komarraju, Musulkin, and Bhattacharya (2010) examined the influence of student–faculty experiences on students' academic self-concepts and found a positive relationship indicating that meaningful interactions with faculty may encourage the development of academic self-concept.

The impact of academic and school-related factors on college readiness, aspirations, and access has been examined frequently within the literature (Barber & Torney-Purta, 2008; Polite, 1994; Taliaferro & DeCuir-Gunby, 2008; Uwah, McMahon, & Furlow, 2008; Wimberly, 2002; Yun & Kurlaender, 2004). Several factors related to school racial composition and perceived school support (Yun & Kurlaender, 2004), school relationships (Wimberly, 2002), gaps in exposure to college preparatory and advanced placement curriculums (Taliaferro & DeCuir-Gunby, 2008), teacher perceptions (Barber & Torney-Purta, 2008), and structural inequalities (Polite, 1994) have been identified as variables that significantly impact the opportunities for African-American children to be exposed to the types of interpersonal relationships and educational experiences necessary for preparing them to succeed in postsecondary education.

The number of bachelor's degrees awarded to African-Americans in STEM fields has been increasing, but at a slower pace than the number of bachelor's degrees earned by blacks in other fields. Between 2000 and 2008, the number of bachelor's degrees awarded to African-Americans grew at a faster rate than the total number awarded to all students (27 percent versus 21 percent). However, the growth rate in the number of bachelor's degrees earned by African-Americans in STEM fields has been lower than the rate of growth of bachelor's degrees awarded in other fields. As mentioned, the total number of bachelor's degrees awarded to blacks has increased; however, the number of bachelor's degrees awarded increased by only 21 percent in biological sciences and 1 percent in engineering and declined by 14 percent in mathematics and statistics and 1 percent in physical sciences (National Science Foundation, 2010).

Since the 1960s and 1970s, participation in postsecondary education has increased considerably. In 1965, for example, fewer than 6 million students were enrolled in U.S. higher education institutions; by 2009, however, that figure exceeded 20 million (National Center for Education Statistics [NCES], 2011). This expansion is due in large part to the advent of federal and institutional policies (e.g., Title IX, affirmative action, and the advent of federal financial aid) intended to facilitate college access for diverse student populations (Astin & Oseguera, 2004). Indeed, much of the growth in college enrollment over the past several decades has been driven by the rising college enrollment among women of all races (NCES, 2011). In 1979, the number of women enrolled in some form of postsecondary education exceeded that of men for the first time. Since then, college enrollment rates among women continued to surpass those of men, leading to the increasingly severe gender disparities that persist today.

The nation's first Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) were founded before the end of the U.S. Civil War. However, most were established in the post-Civil War era, through the Freedmen's Bureau and other organizations such as the American Missionary Association (AMA) when the U.S. federal government initiated an organized effort to educate newly freed slaves (Hoffman, 1996). Additional support for HBCUs arose from the second Morrill Act of 1890, which provided opportunities for all races in those states where Black students were excluded from public higher education. Thus, since their founding in the 1800s, the nation's HBCUs have had as their missions to provide access to higher education for the disenfranchised and underprivileged of our society. Today, these institutions continue to make significant contributions in educating African American and other underrepresented minority students, particularly in the areas of science and engineering. Although they comprise only 3% of U.S. institutions of higher education, HBCUs in 2008 awarded 20% of the baccalaureate degrees earned by Blacks in science and engineering (National Science Foundation, 2011).

According to national statistics, small numbers of black American women earn science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) degrees. Instead of focusing on this disturbing, well-documented trend, this chapter explores STEM career success among black female graduate students who enroll in and complete PhD programs. In other words, we are engaged in an effort to address how black women in STEM fields succeed in graduate school. This chapter presents a qualitative look at successful PhD pathways. It will provide data on the pipeline of black women at the high school, undergraduate, and graduate levels; describe programs that the state of Maryland has employed among its public research universities to recruit and retain black women in doctoral programs; present testimonials from black women who have participated in these programs; and offer an extensive case study of 15 black women alumni of these programs who now have PhDs and are establishing their STEM careers. Programs that will be documented as successful for recruiting, mentoring, and retaining black women in STEM include the National Science Foundation's (NSF) University System of Maryland Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation Bridge to the Doctorate program; the NSF's PROMISE: Maryland's Alliance for Graduate Education and the Professoriate (AGEP) program for UMBC, the University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB), and the University of Maryland, College Park (UMCP); the National Institutes of Health's (NIH) Meyerhoff Graduate Fellows Program in the Biomedical Sciences (Minority Biomedical Research Support – Initiative for Maximizing Student Development (MBRS-IMSD)) at UMBC and UMB; and subprograms such as the Dissertation House (DH), the Community Building Retreat, and the PROF-it: Professors-in-Training program. The case study will include the following questions: What were some of the obstacles that occurred during graduate school, and what helped you to overcome them? Were there any issues that occurred that made you want to quit? If you stopped for a while, or thought about stopping, what were your motivations for returning? Where did you receive mentoring during your graduate school process? What advice would you give to young women who are just starting? The chapter focuses on a variety of methods and practices that successfully shepherd black women from undergraduate ranks to PhD-level careers in STEM fields.

This chapter draws on recent survey data from a multi-institutional sample to estimate the influence of sense of belonging (SOB) on learning and success outcomes for African-American (AA) students in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields. Additional information highlights differences between men and women. Qualitative data from individual and group interviews are used to make meaning of the statistical findings, yielding insights that can be used to improve educational policies, practices, and conditions for AA students in STEM.

There is considerable public and private attention directed toward the current social, political and economic status of African American males in the United States. As a group, African American males place last on most positive indicators and first on most negative indicators. These facts, at first glance, might be alarming on their own, though first and last are expected parameters in descriptive statistics. What is highly alarming is the size of the gap between African American males and other groups on various indicators, and the consistency in which African American males are in a negative position and the painfully slow progress that we as a nation are making toward correcting the situation, and “correcting” is used loosely. The status of African American males is considered from an education economics point of view and a strategy for reversing disturbing trends for this group is presented. Significantly, science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines are long-standing contributors to the economic development of the nation. Although some African American males are educationally and professionally successful in STEM careers, African American males' proportions pale in comparison with other groups. Effective mentoring strategies are offered as a means for increasing the success rate in these rigorous fields and ultimately reversing the current trends regarding the condition of African American males in the United States.

This chapter examines the types of institutions successful at replicating the diversity of the full-time undergraduate population in the diversity of the STEM-discipline degrees awarded. The sample is limited to full-time undergraduate students enrolled at or who are graduates from nonprofit private and public institutions. Relative to their share of the full-time undergraduate population and U.S. population, Asians and whites are overrepresented and blacks and Hispanics were underrepresented in the STEM – discipline bachelor's degree population. Private doctorate and public bachelor's and public master's comprehensive degrees–granting institutions were more successful than their counterparts at replicating the diversity of the full-time undergraduate population in the diversity of the STEM-discipline degrees awarded. Historically Black College and Universities (HBCUs) were the most successful at replicating this diversity. These findings were consistent over the time period analyzed.

In a knowledge-based global economy driven by the sciences and engineering (S&E), the most valuable resources are human resources. Traditionally, the United States met shortages of S&E talent by importing it from abroad; however, this solution has been rendered no longer viable by geo-political changes coupled with other nations' successfully competing for S&E talent. The decrease in the availability of external S&E talent coupled with changing demographics of the US population overall have been the catalysts for shifting focus to developing internal talent – especially from groups that have historically under participated in the S&E workforces – African Americans, Mexican-Americans, Native Americans/Native Pacific Islanders, and Puerto Ricans. It is important not to fall prey to the illusion of inclusion – that is to assume that the increases in the numbers of S&E degrees earned by African Americans are reflected in the composition of the S&E professoriate. The purpose of this chapter is to provide compelling arguments for increasing and enhancing African American participation on S&E faculties; systematically analyze differences by gender and broad field in the rates of participation of African Americans on science and engineering faculties of colleges and universities in the United States; and to discuss the implications of these differences for policy, programs, and practices that seek to enhance the participation of African Americans on S&E college and university faculties.

Though STEM-related jobs have become a critical sector in the United States economy, there remains a severe employment shortage of eligible workers in these fields (Beyer, Rynes, Perrault, Hay, & Haller, 2003; National Science Foundation, 2009). The shortage of workers who possess the necessary skills to fulfill this growing sector of the economy are at a level last reached the middle of the 20th century (ACT, 2006; Jackson et al., in press). Even so, approximately 1.6 million supplementary workers with degrees in the computing sciences will be required to satisfy workforce demands according to the U. S. Department of Labor (Beyer et al., 2003; Hecker, 2001). Social misfortunes have played a significant role in the disproportioned participation rates of ethnic minorities in STEM fields. Although it could be argued that the field of computing sciences has moved to the forefront of STEM within this information-based global economy, very few African Americans productively contribute to the field (Carver, 1994; Gilbert, Jackson, George, Charleston, & Daniels, 2007).

“The Computing Research Association (CRA) is an association of more than 200 North American academic departments of computer science, computer engineering, and related fields; laboratories and centers in industry, government, and academia engaging in basic computing research; and affiliated professional societies” (CRA, 2010a). Each year the CRA publishes its Taulbee Survey. “The Taulbee Survey is the principal source of information on the enrollment, production, and employment of Ph.D.s in computer science and computer engineering (CS & CE) and in providing salary and demographic data for faculty in CS & CE in North America. Statistics given include gender and ethnicity breakdowns” (Computer Research Association, CRA, 2010a).

In 2009, Blacks earned about 6% of the doctoral degrees awarded in the field of epidemiology (NSF, 2010). This one year snapshot of attainment estimated that 17 of the 273 doctoral degrees in the field were granted to Blacks. Aschengrau and Seage (2008) defined epidemiology as “the study of the distribution and determinants of disease frequency in human populations and the application of this study to control health problems” (p. 6). The research in epidemiology is often organized by disease or source of risk – e.g., infectious disease, cancer, occupational injury, psychiatric, respiratory, intestinal, renal, dental, or cardiovascular. Another way to categorize the research in epidemiology is by method – spatial, meta-analysis, economic, environmental, clinical, surveillance, disease informatics, biostatistics, and so on. For example, the progress in the Human Genome Project, in computing power, and in the development of powerful statistical approaches has expanded the analytical possibilities in genetic epidemiology, a discipline that seeks to understand how genetics, environmental factors, and their interactions produce various diseases and traits in humans. Genetic epidemiology as well as the other methodologies associated with field of epidemiology is part of population science where population history and dynamics are modeled. The scientific discipline of epidemiology is rarely part of discussions focused on opportunity pathways in STEM fields. Nor are many other fields aligned with population science (e.g., demography and population sociology) included in these discussions. These omissions represent blind spots that deserve to be clearly seen as part of discussions of STEM fields that require sound inquiry and serve to advance human development and human capital, while contributing to the common good.

Cover of Beyond Stock Stories and Folktales: African Americans' Paths to STEM Fields
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Diversity in Higher Education
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Emerald Publishing Limited
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