1. Shabnam Brady
  3. Tennessee State University
  1. Dr. Lesia Crumpton-Young
  3. Tennessee State University
  1. Germysha Little
  2. Research Assistant
  4. Tennessee State University
  1. Kwame Robinson
  3. Tennessee State University
  1. Brandi Slaughter
  3. Tennessee State University

The Road to Persistence in STEM: HBCUs in Action

NSF Awards: 1549591

2018 (see original presentation & discussion)


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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Discussion from the 2018 STEM for All Video Showcase (12 posts)
  • May 13, 2018 | 04:30 p.m.

    Very nice video! I liked your idea of the student "dreaming" of their success. A very powerful analogy. How have your used your research findings to help African-American high school students find their way to HBCUs?

    I would like to hear your thoughts about our video on the Cal-Bridge program, which is working to help underrepresented students achieve PhDs in physics and astronomy, and tell us what you think: http://stemforall2018.videohall.com/p/1277

    Discussion is closed. Upvoting is no longer available

    Shabnam Brady
  • Icon for: Shabnam Brady

    Shabnam Brady

    Lead Presenter
    May 14, 2018 | 12:15 p.m.

    Thank you so much for your feedback. We intend to engage high school students locally and nationally by offering workshops, webinars etc. for STEM at HBCUs. Our goal is to also use the research findings to support persistence of students enrolled in STEM at HBCUs. 

    I look forward to watching your video and research. Thanks again! 

  • Icon for: Jay Labov

    Jay Labov

    May 14, 2018 | 11:27 a.m.

    I agree that this video offers a very nice way to help students imagine themselves in an HBCU environment, experiencing a problem that many students encounter with their progress in introductory STEM courses, and ways that the institution provides for students to overcome these obstacles.

    I'm hoping that you can provide a link to the survey instrument so that others at HBCUS and elsewhere can more easily access it. Could you also provide some additional information about your survey methods. For example:

    - How were respondents selected? Was this through some process of randomly identifying people? Or did respondents self select?

    - What was the sample size for each group of respondents? If the respondents didn't self-select, what was the response rate in each group to your original request to participate?

    - Since HBCUs range from Research 1 universities to comprehensive universities and smaller institutions, could you please provide some additional information about the kinds of HBCUs from which you received responses? Were these different kinds of institutions well-represented in the responses or were the preponderance of them from one type of institution?

    One other thing that came to mind while watching this video: when the student received an "F" on his first exam, his professor referred him to a mentor. As he was ready to graduate the mentor congratulated him for his persistence and in working with his professors. I think that people who view this video would benefit from knowing more about the models of interaction and connectedness among students, faculty, and mentors at HBCUs, since these institutions often emphasize these connections to a greater extent than at other types of institutions of higher education.

    Thank you again for submitting this entry!

    Discussion is closed. Upvoting is no longer available

    Shabnam Brady
  • Icon for: Shabnam Brady

    Shabnam Brady

    Lead Presenter
    May 14, 2018 | 12:29 p.m.

    Thank you so much for your feedback. I appreciate your questions and insight into the HBCU experience. 

    Data were collected from students (Group 1) and faculty (Group 2) from four HBCUs nationwide using surveys. The surveys were distributed online, in-person, or using both approaches. Hard copies were printed and disseminated to students in STEM major classes, student organization meetings, and at the university student center. Students/faculty were also emailed a link to the survey for online completion. These efforts resulted in a total of 648 participants across Group 1 (n = 579) and Group 2 (n = 69).

    The participating HBCUs were public, coed and tier 2. 

    We hope to collect more data from other HBCUs across the country. 


    Thank you again for watching and your comments! 

  • Icon for: Danielle Watt

    Danielle Watt

    Director of Education, Outreach, & Diversity
    May 15, 2018 | 06:09 p.m.

    Thank you for sharing your study on the experience of STEM majors at HBCUs. What are your plans to address the challenges you have identified to increase student success?

    Does the study assess current models/resources offered to students facing barriers?

    Discussion is closed. Upvoting is no longer available

    Shabnam Brady
  • Icon for: Shabnam Brady

    Shabnam Brady

    Lead Presenter
    May 16, 2018 | 10:44 a.m.

    Thank you for watching! We are in the process of developing a student persistence model with consideration of literature. We plan to collect more data nationally to help us develop a comprehensive model considering student experiences and what factors can serve as support students in STEM at HBCUs. 

  • Icon for: Whitney Erby

    Whitney Erby

    Doctoral Student
    May 15, 2018 | 07:50 p.m.

    Excellent video. My question is similar to Danielle's. The results of your study seem to indicate that students run into difficulty pretty early on in their academic STEM careers. Given inadequate high school preparation was found to be a major issue, do you think interventions should be designed to assist students at the high school level, college, or both? 

    Discussion is closed. Upvoting is no longer available

    Shabnam Brady
  • Icon for: Shabnam Brady

    Shabnam Brady

    Lead Presenter
    May 16, 2018 | 10:46 a.m.

    Thank you for watching! Absolutely. Our specific work is focused on HBCUs and how they can intervene once students are enrolled to persist in STEM fields. Thus, interventions at the college level can remediate what was missed from high school preparation for STEM and study skills for college. Perhaps, a collaboration with high schools could be an effort for HBCUs to provide enrichment programs to prepare students for STEM fields in the future. 

  • Icon for: Gretal Leibnitz

    Gretal Leibnitz

    TECAID PI & Project Director
    May 16, 2018 | 01:25 p.m.

    Hi Shabnam!

    Very fun and creative video to help give context to the results of your research for students at HBCUs!  I am curious as to your thoughts on how well these results translate to non-HBCUs? 

    To create a diverse, equitable, and inclusive system of higher education, I am wondering how information like that obtained from your grant can be useful to projects like ours on providing academic engineers with information for changing their department cultures (regardless of institution type--HBCU or otherwise):  http://videohall.com/p/1295.  Your thoughts?

    Warmly, Gretal

  • Icon for: Terri Norton

    Terri Norton

    Higher Ed Faculty
    May 16, 2018 | 05:10 p.m.

    Very nice video and creative approach to studying student success in STEM at HBCUs. I am curious as to whether your survey instrument captures other interventions in addition to mentoring (i.e. math help centers, writing centers, study halls)?

  • May 16, 2018 | 05:13 p.m.

    Do you have additional details in regard to "inadequate high school STEM preparation"? In particular, I'm curious to know if this means (1) lack of access to high-level coursework, (2) lack of access to particular subjects, and/or (3) issues of teacher quality. I'm also curious to know if you know anything about personal traits of high school STEM teachers that might influence student engagement...I'm not sure if you would have looked at the race/gender of their high school teacher and correlations with students of color and young women in particular in pursuing STEM fields?

    I ask because I'm currently putting together a project to support STEM teachers at the high school level who in turn support students of color. In physics, we struggle with two areas that we think might have some influence on supporting the enrollment of students of diverse backgrounds: (1) there is significant underrepresentation of people of color in high school STEM teaching (or at least this is very much the case for physics), and (2) across the board regardless of background, new teachers of physics are often underprepared because they are out-of-field, and this issue disproportionately impact students of color especially considering the issues of inequity of access to physics programs at the high school level. 

    So, with this ind mind, I'm curious to know if you've looked "backward" -- in detail -- as well as "forward" in the experiences of STEM students of color and those factors that result in persistence.

  • Icon for: Kathryn Lewis

    Kathryn Lewis

    K-12 Administrator
    May 19, 2018 | 12:57 a.m.

    Thanks for sharing, very interesting. Lots of implications for younger learners and how we support their STEM learning.

  • Further posting is closed as the event has ended.

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