Date of Award

11-20-2009

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Educational Psychology and Special Education

First Advisor

Dennis Thompson, Ph.D. - Committee Chair

Second Advisor

Brian Williams, Ph.D. - Committee Member

Third Advisor

Daphne Greenberg, Ph.D. - Committee Member

Fourth Advisor

Layli Phillips, Ph.D. - Committee Member

Abstract

African American women compose a critical proportion of the potential science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) workforce of the future, yet are disproportionately represented and largely underutilized. While various programs and initiatives have been designed and implemented to target women and underrepresented minorities, the voices and experiences of African American women have been insufficiently heard or studied. This study investigates the experiences of four African American female students who participated in a 10-week undergraduate research experience (URE) program designed for the recruitment and retention of women and underrepresented minorities in STEM disciplines. Through autobiographical narratives and interviews participants shared how and in what ways the URE program influenced their career development (namely academic/career interests and choices), what they learned about their interests and choices, and what it means to them to be African American women pursuing science-related careers. Using a qualitative case study analysis, this study focuses on the unique stories of young African-American women participating in their own career development. Seven major themes emerged from the analysis of the data. Each of the participants initially entered the URE with an established interest in science, with an expressed desire for research experience, and with an interest in exploring career options in science. Through their involvement in the URE program, participants experienced a significant increase in self-knowledge and confidence, recognized the existence of social and/or science communities, and either discovered or clarified career interests and possibilities. All participants recognized value in their participation and expressed gratitude for having had the opportunity. Overall, the URE program provided a vital opportunity for participants to play an active role in their own career development. The results of this study emphasize the importance of and need to expand the URE as an avenue for career development and exploration in order to address the lack of such programming for African American women in STEM disciplines.

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