On December 9th, the White House honored twelve individuals as Champions of Change in America. They were recognized for their efforts to recruit and retain women and girls in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. I am humbled to be selected as one of those twelve individuals and share this honor with numerous mentors and colleagues with whom I have had the tremendous opportunity to collaborate on research.
Two years ago, President Obama’s Educate to Innovate campaign was launched to improve the nation’s participation in STEM, particularly for youth. Among the three pillars of this campaign is the commitment to “expand STEM education and career opportunities for underrepresented groups, including women and girls.” My scholarship supports this third pillar by contributing research evidence to the STEM discourse on the impact of cultural factors on academic and career outcomes. My goal is to increase the effectiveness of interventions designed to advance gender and racial/ethnic equity in STEM. My work complements the knowledgebase on the “what” of science education with additional understanding of “how” race and gender variables may relate to STEM academic and career development.
My experience is drawn from working mainly with three groups over the last 10 years:
I want to encourage a larger dialogue on the nexus of culture and career development, particularly in STEM.
Addressing Culture. Recruitment and retention of all individuals, in general, and underrepresented groups, in particular, are more complicated than stimulating interests and abilities in STEM. Using social cognitive career theory, my research with racial/ethnic minority women and men in science and engineering at several universities indicates that self-efficacy beliefs (or confidence) to complete a STEM degree and positive outcome expectations (consequences one anticipates from pursuing a given task) are significantly associated with STEM interests and goals that lead to eventual pursuits. For STEM students at a predominantly-White institution in my sample, comfort interacting with individuals outside of their own ethnic group is positively related to academic self-efficacy. For STEM students at a historically-Black university in my sample, an established ethnic identity (identification with being African American) is positively related to outcome expectations (e.g., other African Americans will respect me, I can give back to my community through STEM work). Regardless of the academic environment, individuals’ experiences with and negotiation of themselves as cultural beings (ethnic identity, bicultural competence) is a part of the STEM experience. This cultural negotiation with which many racial/ethnic minority students contend in academia was recently illustrated in an article in the associated press published on December 4, 2011 titled, “Some Asians college strategy: Don’t check Asian.”
Addressing Career Development. Many individuals are highly motivated to pursue and intrinsically interested in STEM fields but have limited knowledge about the diverse career pathways and jobs they can pursue with a STEM degree. In a recent New York Times article on November 4, 2011 titled, “Why Science Majors Change Their Minds”, data from the National Science Board was reported that many STEM students lose sight of why they pursued the field in the first place. Facilitating career exploration, career planning, and career commitment may help address this erosion of STEM career goals.
What can you do? Consider these six ideas:
I am doing my part to support President Obama’s challenge to “Out-Build, Out-Educate, and Out-innovate” future competitors. Please join me and the other 2011 Champions for Women in STEM in doing the same.