Using an Assets-Based Approach to Explore Black Women's Pursuit and Persistence in Undergraduate STEM Majors



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Technological advancements in today’s global society are numerous and continue to grow at an exponential rate. It is predicated that all jobs in the future will require some knowledge and skills in STEM: science, technology, engineering, mathematics (Malyn-Smith et al., 2017). According to the National Science Board, 7.5 million Americans were employed in science and engineering occupations in 2019, of whom 64% were White and 5% Black (Burke et al., 2022). Those statistics are not disaggregated by gender; however, they still highlight the glaring racial underrepresentation in STEM careers. Understanding underrepresentation at the post-secondary level is critical since many STEM careers require an undergraduate degree at the minimum. Peer-reviewed literature and public discourse have often viewed underrepresentation of Black women in STEM through the lens of what is missing and what needs improvement. Instead, this dissertation used an assets-based approach to explore Black women’s pursuit and persistence in undergraduate STEM majors. Community Cultural Wealth (Yosso, 2005) was used as a theoretical framework to inform the design of this qualitative interview study and interpretation of findings. There were 14 participants, and their undergraduate majors were in: biology, chemistry, bioengineering, cyber security engineering, information technology, applied computer science, pre-nursing, and rehabilitation science. One participant pursued a Bachelor of Applied Science with two concentrations, one in Technology and Innovation and the other in Cyber Security. The first research question explored Black women’s preparedness to pursue STEM majors. Three themes emerged from the findings: pivotal moments in schooling both fueled and dissuaded STEM interest, informal learning allowed time for hands-on activities and real-world learning experiences. In addition, choosing a college and selecting a STEM major involved traditional pathways and alternative routes. The second research questions focused on Black women’s persistence in their STEM majors. There were four themes that surfaced: managing the logistics of being a college student led to academic achievement, surviving weed-out classes was significant for persistence, changing majors yet remaining in STEM was an unanticipated finding, and participation in the National Society of Black Engineers and Women of Color in STEM were important for persistence in STEM majors and pursuit of STEM careers. This study revealed that all 14 Black women were wealthy since they possessed many forms of Cultural Wealth. There were three forms of cultural wealth that I focused on: aspirational, linguistic, and familial. All participants had aspirational capital because they “maintained their hopes and dreams for the future, even in the face of” racialized and gendered experiences (Yosso, 2005, p. 77). Linguistic capital in this dissertation took two forms: nonverbal, visual communication and discipline-specific discourse. Lastly, for familial capital to align with Yosso (2005) original conceptualization, an explicit connection to community was important.



Black women, Community Cultural Wealth, Persistence, Pursuit, Undergraduate STEM majors