African American Women in STEM Education: The Cycle of Microaggressions from P-12 Classrooms to Higher Education and Back

African American Women in STEM Education: The Cycle of Microaggressions from P-12 Classrooms to Higher Education and Back

Susan Ferguson Martin (University of South Alabama, USA), Andre Green (University of South Alabama, USA) and Melissa Dean (University of South Alabama, USA)
Copyright: © 2016 |Pages: 9
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-0174-9.ch007
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This project examines the critical issues of stereotypes and gender bias that face students, particularly women, of color in higher education and into their careers, as well as the lack of representation of women of color in higher education STEM related disciplines. Interviews with three, African American females from their start as undergraduate students in Biology, into graduate programs, and eventually with careers as science educators in public science education classrooms, as well as a review of current literature, highlights the need for women of color within STEM disciplines, as well as strides that have been made toward increasing the number of both females and males of color in STEM related areas.
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Each year positions in science classrooms go unfilled, particularly in rural and urban areas where teacher staffing is, as in many content areas, inadequate. Often these positions are filled with those who are underqualified teaching outside their area of expertise. Many are also staffed with those who have limited formal training as educators and are serving as long term substitute teachers with no background in STEM disciplines. The deficit is so great that both President Obama and former President George W. Bush created budget lines and initiatives to increase the number of new science and math teachers. Because of this shortage, the past two decades have seen a decline in the global position of the United States in terms of STEM education. In order to meet the need for high quality educators, the interest must be initiated at the elementary level, kindled in the middle grades, and reinforced in secondary education. Relevant also to this need is the diversity of people pursuing science degrees. However, as Ginther and Kahn found in a 2013 longitudinal study of NSF and related data, Women of Color are less likely than white women to graduate from college and to enter tenure track positions. With this trend in the United States, an increase in minority representation in STEM professions must take place, and that means P-12 classroom promotion of STEM disciplines to minority student populations by minority role models.

Noyce Pathway to Science (PTS) is a collaborative program between a local university’s College of Education, College of Arts & Sciences, and a public school system. Pathway to Science addresses the need to not only increase the number of science teachers in the school system through enabling recent science bachelor’s degree graduates to complete secondary science certification in an intensive four-semester program that culminates with certification and an earned master’s degree, but it also recruits scholars from minority backgrounds. To support the success of these PTS Noyce Scholars, support is provided throughout the graduate program and after graduation. Since the program’s inception in 2012, 21 students have completed the program, the goals of which are to put more qualified, certified science teachers in the classroom and to provide an alternative career path for those desiring to meet the critical need for dedicated educational professionals.

Three of the initial PTS scholars are African American females, all undergraduate Biology majors, who were recruited to the alternative graduate program in General Science Education at a Southeastern public institution. all share common threads with faculty encounters, peer bias, goals for future development and advancement and roadblocks, and outlooks for career success. And while they may find themselves situated within a female heavy profession as secondary educators, their academic peers in science disciplines sometimes suggest that their knowledge of science is best relegated to the confines of the middle school and high school classroom—a gender bias that remains prevalent even in STEM disciplines. Also considered are the choices and experiences that brought the three educators to the point at which they find themselves and how creating similar experiences for students in P-12 education and in the community at large might be viable options for encouraging more African American youth to consider STEM professions. Although they all report a generally supportive peer group within their graduate programs at their particular university, as of the 2013-2014 University Fact Book data, only 40 of 774 rank holding faculty identified as African American. That’s right around a mere 5% of total rank holding faculty. Only 11 faculty identified as African American of the almost 300 faculty in Arts and Sciences and Engineering combined. Therefore while the University is situated in a geographical area in which African Americans account for over 35% of the population, and where of the 15,065 students enrolled, 3,019 identified as African American, faculty representation is low and has remained consistently low for more than a decade.

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