Challenges and Strategies Identified by Students of Color in STEM Classrooms Anna Wong Lowe B. Shanel Norwood Sedelta Oosahwee Johanna Rojas Walter Lewis II University of Oklahoma http://www.ou.edu/rise
Portraying Success Among Underrepresented Minority (URM) Engineering Majors (NSF No. DUE-0431642) • Project evaluates achieved differential levels of success from URM populations, focusing on the questions: • What systemic factors contribute to the success of URM students in engineering at large, predominantly white universities? • What systemic factors contribute to differential success between URM populations?
STEP – Portraying Success Among URM Engineering Majors 2005-2008, Study of URM persistence to graduation at OU in CoE Graduation by Ethnicity, 1996 Cohort Members (Percent) • All disciplines, from “Executive Summary 2000-2001 CSRDE (Consortium for Student Retention Data Exchange) Report: The Retention and Graduation Rates in 344 Colleges and Universities” from Center for Institutional Data Exchange and Analysis, OU • From data in “Aiming High: Improving Achievement and Closing Gaps,” Katie Haycock, Director, The Educational Trust • May include students continuing after 6 years; calculated by subtracting % not retained at OU from 100%. • Non-URM includes white, Asian, non-resident aliens, and those choosing not to report ethnicity data.
Project Methods • College of Engineering undergraduates at a predominately white Midwestern University who self-identified as one or more of the following racial/ethnic categories: • African American • Hispanic American • Native American • Asian American • These identified groups are considered “minorities.” All but Asian Americans are considered underrepresented in STEM programs. • Primary Method: 90 minute semi-structured intensive-interviews • Longitudinal study • 166 students have participated in this study with 235 interviews completed to date
Presentation Methods • 40 student-interviews (10 interviews from each ethnic group) were sampled for this presentation • Sample represents broad range of engineering majors • 23 Males, 17 Females • Interview questions were semi-structured, probing the following categories: • Internal and external survival strategies* • Early experiences pre-college and college • Barriers and stressors • Individual definitions of success • Perception of engineering in general, the university, their departments, and major(s)
Coding Analysis Iterative-Inductive coding process using NVIVO 2 • Teams assembled to analyze data of each racial/ethnic group • Defined struggles and strategies • Defined nodes representing the struggle and strategies • Each team coded all struggles • Teams then coded strategies in relation to a struggle • Definitions and coding changed as new and different strategies/struggles emerged • Combined struggles and strategies of all ethnic/racial groups into one table to see variations among and between groups
Struggle Definition For our presentation, struggle is defined as: Academic difficulties encountered in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, & mathematics) classroom environment.
Struggles Analysis • 36 struggles evident in transcripts • Analyzed struggles most frequently reported • Identified struggles consistent to all groups • Considered variations between and among ethnic/racial groups
Struggles Consistent in All Ethnic/Racial Groups • Course Content and Structure • Grades and GPA • Isolation • Issues with Faculty
Course Content & Structure Definition: Student referred to a class as having difficult content or student referred to overall difficulty in grasping class material. Hispanic American computer engineering male “[T]he first class I had that problem in was between Java I and Java II, CS 1323 and data structures was the next class…And it just seemed like the lab work, the lab exercises were a lot more difficult. And I wrote that on the evaluation of the course, I managed to get a B in the class…I would go into the lab and I would just be like I wasn’t getting it…I don’t think my team never got the exercises.”
Grades & GPA Definition: Student referred to receiving low grades in a class that may affect his/her ability to progress to the following course. African American industrial engineering male “Okay, I think really just it was just this one summer…I told you I failed everything, and I think it was a final and I was supposed to get up, and I was like ‘I ain’t going’ and I just went back to sleep, because I knew I’d failed the course, and I had to make like a hundred and something on the final.”
Isolation Definition: When participant reported not having someone else in the department or classroom that appeared to be like him/her, and/or was not situated in a similar culture. African American aerospace engineering male “Just feeling comfortable, just in some classes like I’m the only one in there, the only African American. I can’t really feel comfortable, so I just most of the times just sit there and take notes, and not talk to anyone. But if there are other African American or just minorities in there, and then I’ll feel a little bit better, so I’ll be more likely to speak and talk to other people and ask questions about the material. So it does influence my behavior in class.”
Issues with Faculty Definition: When participant described difficult relationships with instructors such as stating professors are poor teachers, faculty purposely make classes too difficult, or disconnected faculty which discouraged students to approach faculty for help.
Issues with Faculty Example Hispanic American mechanical engineering female “It surprised me how difficult teachers like to make simple subjects. That really surprised me. I didn’t understand why they were so mean and so making things so difficult whenever there is no need. It seems like they are trying to weed us out. Like…they just want to get our money at the beginning and fail us at the end because they know that we have to retake it and spend even more money…I had to retake several classes because the teachers were horrible.”
Overwhelmed Teaching Methods Internal Pressure Lack of Preparation Fear of Receiving Lower Grades Desire Switch Majors Large Classes Gender Discrimination Naive About System Marginalization Struggle Variations In Ethnic/Racial Groups
Overwhelmed Definition: Participant felt extremely stressed or overloaded. Native American mechanical engineering male “I think, well OK, here’s one of the major shockers that basically I got into when I went into the College of Engineering and that is that when I was in high school, especially because I went to a small school, all class was just ridiculously easy. I realize now because I never studied for any of it…Things were real easy and then I come here and all of a sudden it’s like I really honestly felt like I must be one of the dumbest kids in here …everyone appears to know this pretty well whereas I feel like OK, I’m going to need to be reading until about 3 o’clock tonight you know, this is just so much stuff that I’m going to need to work at it. So that was one of the big, big surprises was you’re not as smart as you think you are and you’re really going to have to try really, really hard so.”
Teaching Methods Definition: Participant referred to pedagogical guidance from instructors in engineering classes including the style of learning required for the class. African American chemical engineering female “I guess a really big because I’m kind of having this problem now in one of my classes with just having professors who don’t really teach. (l) Yeah that’s really bad and with tests coming up; you’re just like you haven’t taught this or even when professors are like three chapters ahead of the homework and just like you know. I guess just like the teaching strategies are just kind of bad and it almost inspires me to be a professor myself so I can actually help the students.”
Internal pressure Definition: Participant has self-imposed expectations to excel; for instance, the person has set goals for him/herself and wants to achieve them even if there are no external pressures. Asian American industrial engineering female “I get mad at myself for not studying on Thermo. Especially after the first test or something, I was like… I’m not going to do this, I’m going to learn it, I’m not going to wait till the test to study. And I tell myself that and I don’t and I get mad at myself. I get mad at myself; I don’t blame anything on any people. It’s really up to you; you let them influence you and things like that.”
Lack of preparation Definition: Student referred to poor preparation for higher education based on their prior educational experiences. Hispanic American industrial engineering male “I actually started out a little bit behind in my math--a full year behind, actually. I started out in college algebra instead of calc. Because I hadn’t taken math in high school since my junior year so I had forgotten some stuff. And that’s why when I took that test I kind of got knocked down a whole year which I really regret not doing math my senior year.”
Fear of Lower Grades Definition: Participant may or may not have dissatisfactory grades but is afraid of receiving lower grades in the future. Native American chemical engineering male “The first semester was fairly easy and I thought, ‘Oh, I am on a good road for a 4.0,’ until that first test happened. Then I was like ‘Oh man, that kind of, that put a damper on that 4.0,’ but then I said I was like fine…The biggest stress is you are concerned about losing your scholarships and stuff and you are carrying maybe 14 hours, but the thing is it’s like Chem I and Chem II and stuff. They are fairly like easy classes for someone who is a chemical engineer, but the thing is if you make a B or a C especially in a class like that when they are worth five credit hours, chemistry, it makes it at the beginning, it makes a huge difference in your GPA. It will hurt it fast.”
Desire to Switch Majors Definition: Participant desired to change majors or has thought about another major. Asian American environmental science female “Well I just don’t really care for engineering honestly; I mean I care more for the biological sciences. I think I like I’d be more interested in something like zoology so…Just because I could probably take more classes that I’m interested in and be more related to what I wanted to do in the future so.”
Large Classes Definition: Student referred to the large number of students in their classes. Hispanic American chemical engineering male “A lot of things of course caught me by surprise…The first thing that really affected me was just setting there with so many people. At first you feel kind of lost, but at the end you just really get used the setting and the multiple people in one place and events.”
Gender Discrimination Definition: Student reported being set apart and/or treated differently primarily because of his/her gender or sex.
Gender Discrimination Example Native American industrial engineering female “I was the only girl in my group and my ideas were not taken seriously, a lot of my work was redone…When you do like group evaluations and I was at every group meeting, I did…all my work…so I told the teacher from [as the project progressed]…I was just like so I’d like to know what they scored me. Well, two of the guys basically gave me Fs on both of the projects that we did and said that… and basically lied. Said that I didn’t do anything; said that…they considered me as the typical sorority girl that wanted to you know write off everybody else and not do their portion, which just wasn’t true at all…[The men in the group] they would make comments to me about being stupid, about being…the typical like… they wondered if I dyed my hair, just like they would make those comments to me. So it wasn’t like they were hiding it from me that they, you know, felt that way about me. They were very blatant about it.”
Naïve About System Definition: Participant does not know how the college system works, such as where to go for help, financial options, the grading system, or general college practices. Asian American mechanical engineering male P: And that is something you learn by being in the college of engineering, not to freak out. Because otherwise you go crazy. I: Not to freak out? P: Oh, because like test averages on the college of engineering classes are really low…So it would be like in the fifties percentage and you get like a fifty and, you know. Like other majors you freak out, but we are just like yeah we’re used to it, so you learn not to freak out.
Marginalization Definition: Student reported being unaccepted or feeling like s/he is set apart from the others for any reason. African American industrial engineering female “I’m not friends with any of these people…we just have classes together; we don’t party on the weekends together…things like that. It’s just like: ‘Okay, can I be in your group?’ ‘Okay. Alright.’ ‘Are you going to listen to what I have to say?’ You know. And that’s the other thing: ‘Are you actually going to listen to my opinions and actually think about them?’ So it’s awkward. It’s another challenge.”
Strategy Definition For our presentation, strategy is defined as: Action, attitudes or behavior to manage a problem, achieve a goal, and/or cope with internal and external dissonance.
Strategies Analysis • 31 strategies reported • Strategies were coded with a reported struggle • Identified common strategies utilized by all ethnic/racial groups • Participants reported using different strategies to cope with the same struggle • Participants referred to utilizing a variety of strategies to cope with their struggles
Finding the Right Person Definition: Referred to students who are able to find an individual or group of individuals who support them through their academic struggles Hispanic American mechanical engineering female “I established a pretty good support group of like two or three girls. We have all tried to just stick together, and now it’s down to the three of us. And we are all going to stick together and keep each other going and force each other to go to class and study and things like that. I guess that I am more stubborn than other people. Like I don’t want, I don’t want to let you know like a D or F tell me I’m going to change.”
Adapt Definition: Referred to learning how to successfully exist in a difficult environment. Positive and behavioral. Change in behavior of a person or group to new or modified surroundings. Also used when students took time to adapt to/in new situations. African American industrial engineering female “Basically I just have to deal with it because there were no more groups for me to get in. So, I just basically kept driving my point, you know, probably don’t like me now but they’ll be fine…It’s basic… you know, giving my opinion. You just got to do it sometimes.”
Commitment Definition Participant utilized internal force(s) or determination to remain in engineering. African American industrial engineering male “And you know just being able to stick to it and know that a lot of people have left. A lot of people didn’t make it and you’re still here; you’re making it slowly but at least surely…It’s just being able to say I’m done and finished and go home afterwards.”
Work Harder Definition Student referred to behavioral activities or attitudes to continue or succeed in the face of academic struggles. This was sometimes expressed as studying more, but others expressed a level of determination that kept them from quitting in difficult times. Some responded after interviewer asked how s/he would handle a difficult class. Native American mechanical engineering male: “I guess that it would just have be I wanted it you know, I mean deep down, I mean no one can give you enough money, or anything to go through this much torture and you just have to want it. I mean some people are smart enough, they can they can get through it. I’m not, I’ll admit that I’m not one of those guys that can just open up a book and it comes to me. I really have to work at it, and I’ll work at stuff for, you know, six eight hours and I’ll still flunk the test and everybody else won’t. You just kind of (.) and hit it again, you know?”
Go to professor or TA Definition Student went to their professor and/or TA for help/support. Native American petroleum engineering male: I: Why do you go to professor’s office hours? P: To get help, to turn stuff in, ask questions, all that good stuff. I: Do you think that you have more recognition with that professor because you go? P: Yeah, for sure, you know it shows that you’re willing to put out the effort and a lot of times, like I said, that’s all that you have. And if the professor thinks that you’re trying as hard as you can, they’re going to pass you.
Learning Study Strategies Definition Participant learned how to study better for a particular class, taught himself/herself, and/or changed study habits. Asian American mechanical engineering male I: What made you feel you want to change your major? P: I didn’t like it, it wasn’t fun, and the professors weren’t very nice…some people just can’t teach worth a crap, and…it’s just like they go up there, and their not motivated themselves. And just like “yeah here are some notes, look at it”, they’re lazy, they can’t teach and I don’t learn anything from them, so I have to teach myself in every class….I mean it’s ridiculous, they go up there and be like “here, here’s stuff, learn how to do it”. Like lab, it’s ridiculous we just go there, and they are just like “yeah here’s this machine” you’ve never seen in your entire life, “here’s a manual, go do it” ….I try to figure it out.
Resignation Definition Participant referred to giving up, “letting it go,” or decided it was not worth the fight. Negative and attitudinal. Asian American mechanical engineering male I: Okay, since you lost your interest in this major, what are you going to do to get your degree? P: Tough it out, what else can I do? I only got a few more classes to go, not much I can do, just tough it out. It’s hard, but what am I going to do?...[So because of this and a family problem I know] I should care and worry about some stuff, but I just don’t you know. So that’s probably what it was, and…I don’t want to be an engineer.
Acceptance Definition Student referred to possessing a laid back attitude and were able to work in whatever situation or environment. Positive and attitudinal. African American civil engineering male “It is real competitive. It is a whole bunch of people, the smartest people from their school, and they are all into one class. So you’re not just the only smartest person in your class. It’s real competitive. It can sometimes be like discouraging when you learn how smart these people are and they know so much more than you. But I mean you get used to it.”
Variation of Strategies Between Groups • Playing the Game • Retake Classes • Setting Academic Goals
Playing the Game Definition: A student understanding the college system such that s/he knew how to use the system to his/her advantage.
Playing the Game Cont. Native American chemical engineering male: Like I know the weed out periods are the times when the classes are the hardest, even though you may know more material later on. The thing is the teacher’s test set-up and everything else changes to where they are not as much trying to weed you out now as much as they are actually trying to teach you stuff….more than likely whenever you get further in, you got professors who will pass the majority of the class. You may have 3-4 fail. As long as you know that you are not going to be at the bottom of that list, you are saved. The thing is trying to get to the top of that list, so at the end what I do for most of my classes, at the end try to make it to where the final isn’t a stress at all, where you can kind of study, half-study for it, just enough to get your grade, which is sad to say but it’s one of the things that happens especially if you have other classes that you need to make the grade. You just half study for the classes you know, as a bigger concern because you know that you will be able to bring back the stuff if you need to for your next year.
Retake Classes Definition: Student referred to retaking a class or plans on retaking a class in which s/he had difficulty. Hispanic American computer engineer male “The most difficult thing I’ve had to face…a few semesters ago in the spring, I was taking Java II and taking some other classes and had to change my discrete math class to an audit, because I wasn’t fully convinced that I could pass all of my classes…But then I retook my discrete math last semester, and did okay. So I don’t know, I’m still thinking about that semester from time to time wondering.”
Setting Academic Goals Definition Participant referred to placing specific academic expectations as a strategy for a struggle. Asian American industrial engineering male I: What would you tell them to watch out for? P: Just watch out for you know like studies. It’s not like high school. You can’t just blow it off and you know, just go into a test and make an A. I: What would you warn them about in engineering in general? P: You have to be kind of dedicated and do your homework. I: How do you find this dedication? P: Well, you know like you don’t want to screw up your GPA. I: So you are really focused on GPA, aren’t you? P: Yes, GPA so I can get a job and make a lot of money. That’s how I am focused.
Summary • Method • Struggles • Strategies • Future Research
Conclusion Ethnic/Racial groups encounter various struggles and develop distinctive strategies to succeed in STEM. We strongly encourage “multicultural” programs to address these varied approaches.
Acknowledgements Principle Investigators: Randa L. Shehab, Susan E. Walden, Jeanette Davidson; Teri Jo Murphy; Teri Reed Rhoads; Deborah A. Trytten, & Cindy E. Foor Research assistants: William Stephen Anderson, Tiffany Davis-Blackwood, Bach Do, Van Ha, Quintin Hughes, Walter Lewis II, Ben Lopez, Ruth Moaning, Brittany Shanel Norwood, Sedelta Oosahwee, Tracy Revis, Lauren Rieken, Johanna Rojas, Jeff Trevillion, Anna Wong Lowe, Yi Zhao. Local and National Advisory Board: Mary Anderson-Rowland, James Borgford-Parnell, David Bugg, Rosa Cintron, Francey Freeman, Tony Lee, Mayra Olivares, Paul Rocha, Kimberly Rutland, Lisa Schmidt, Larry Schuman, Elaine Seymour, and Karina Walters.