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  1. Shabnam Brady
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  3. Tennessee State University
  1. Dr. Lesia Crumpton-Young
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  3. Tennessee State University
  1. Germysha Little
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The Road to Persistence in STEM: HBCUs in Action

NSF Awards: 1549591

2018 (see original presentation & discussion)

Undergraduate

Students working toward the completion of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) degrees at HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) nationwide may confront diverse and often daunting challenges. To support these students and to address these challenges, it is important to investigate the difficulties and barriers for students in STEM programs from student, faculty, and administrator perspectives. The purpose of the present research study is to assess obstacles that may hinder students from the successful completion of a degree (i.e., student persistence) in STEM by identifying common themes experienced in STEM programs at HBCUs.

A 24-item survey was developed from the review of current literature in student persistence and higher education student success models in STEM (Terenzi & Reason, 2005; Seymour 2000). The survey instrument was administered to current students, faculty, and administrators at HBCUs nationally to gather data regarding undergraduate student experiences in STEM. The survey items were carefully developed and categorized using 3 strategic and central research thrusts, such as cultural intersectionality; institutional climate; and STEM career trajectory to support efforts in broadening participation and student persistence. Thus, the survey elicited responses from students, faculty, and administrators based on these 3 areas. Participants were asked to rate items concerning their experiences and perspectives in their current STEM degree programs using a Likert scale (1 = Strongly Disagree, 2 = Disagree, 3 = Neutral, 4 = Agree, 5 = Strongly Agree, 6 = Not Sure). The participants were from 4 HBCUs in the United States. Majority of participants self-identified as Black or African American, 78% from Group 1 (Students) and 51% from Group 2 (Faculty and Administrators). Majority of participants also self-identified as male, 56% from Group 1 and 72% from Group 2. 

Primary obstacles in their STEM programs as indicated by Group 1 include the following: “Students lose confidence due to low grades in early STEM courses; Students have inadequate high school preparation in study skills; and Students are overwhelmed by the fast-paced STEM courses.” The top difficulties indicated by Group 2 include the following: “Students have inadequate high school preparation in study skills; Students have inadequate high school preparation in STEM subjects; and Students lose confidence due to low grades in early STEM courses.” Comparing the findings of the two groups, it is notable that the top obstacles for both groups are the same themes for 2 out of the 3 obstacles reported. These findings will guide the methodical development and the structure of an operational model to address the 3-mentioned research thrust areas of cultural intersectionality; institutional climate; and STEM career trajectory in STEM programs at HBCUs and across the country.  

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