Persistence Among Minority Stem Majors: A Phenomenological Study

Persistence Among Minority Stem Majors: A Phenomenological Study

Author: 
Stacey Williams-Watson
Program of study: 
Ph.D./HEA
Abstract: 
The United States needs to increase the number of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) graduates to remain competitive in the global market and maintain national security. Minority students, specifically African-American and Hispanic, are underrepresented in STEM fields. As the minority population continues to grow it is essential that higher education institutions improve minority students’ persistence in STEM education. This study examined the problem of minority students’ lack of persistence in STEM programs. The purpose of this qualitative transcendental phenomenological study was to describe the lived experiences that minority students perceived as contributing to their persistence in STEM. The central research question was: What are the lived experiences of minority STEM students that have contributed to their persistence in a STEM program? The sub-questions were: a) What led participants to majors in STEM?; b) What contributed to students’ success and persistence in STEM?; and c) What advice do students have to offer? The researcher interviewed 12 minority STEM students and uncovered 10 themes that described the lived experiences of minority students’ persistence in STEM programs. The themes were 1) Childhood experiences and interests; 2) Positive educational experiences in secondary school; 3) Selfmotivation; 4) Positive experiences with professors; 5) Family encouragement and values; 6) Lack of minorities; 7) Lack of educational preparation; 8) The need for financial assistance; 9) Clubs and organizations; and 10) Friends within the major. The significance of these findings is the potential to produce changes in curricula, programs, and retention methods that may improve the persistence of minority students in STEM programs.
Dedication: 
I dedicate this dissertation to my beautiful children Kaziya Watson and Dyami Watson Jr. You are my inspiration and have encouraged me in more ways than you can ever know. I am so lucky and proud to be your mother. For the nights you cooked dinner and for the days I had to watch your games with a computer on my lap, I thank you. You can do anything you put your mind to. I also dedicate this dissertation to my wonderful and supportive parents Richard and Gloria Williams. You never doubted me, even when I doubted myself. Your encouragement and support have brought me a long way. Thank you for your love, your prayers, and both your mental and physical support. Finally, I dedicate this dissertation to my family; my biological family and church family St. David’s Episcopal Church; your words of encouragement, phone calls, extra set of eyes, prayers, and positive attitudes have helped me make it to this place. Thank you
Acknowledgements: 
First and foremost, I would like to acknowledge and thank God. I know that is through God’s good grace that I am here and have made it thus far. I would like to acknowledge my family: my children Kaizya and Dyami Jr., my parents Gloria and Richard, my brothers Richard Jr. and Brian, my many aunts, uncles, and cousins. You have all supported and encouraged me along the way and I truly appreciate it. Thank you to my dissertation chair, Dr. Jymmca Wyatt; you took a chance on me, filled in when I lost my original chair and ran with me to the finish line. Thank you for your encouragement and advice. Your experience, dedication, and professionalism have been priceless. Thank you to my dissertation committee members Dr. Betty Carrington, Dr. Kecia Addison Scott, and former chair Dr. Anastasia Metros. You have read my dissertation repeatedly and given excellent advice, support, and guidance. Thank you; I do not know where I would have been without all of your help and support. To my director and mentor, Dr. Toni Ryan, thank you for continuing to work with me and help me with my dissertation process. You volunteered to help with no expectations besides a good heart and ample experience you truly are an asset. To my partner and friend, thank you for your support, convincing me to get back to work, cooking dinner, and encouraging me along the way. To my present and past co-workers, many of you have been a second set of eyes for me and offered encouragement along the way. Thank you. To the minority STEM students who participated in my study, thank you for taking time out of your busy day(s) to share your thought and feelings about your program. I am proud of the progress you have made and truly thank you for your contribution to my dissertation. Without your thoughts and experiences I would not have been able to complete my study. To my dissertation classmates, I made it, and so can you. When we first started this process there were a lot of us, and we lost so many along the way; however, we have continued to support each other and we have walked along this journey together. Thank you MaryAnn, Loren, Shannon, and Anita your support is invaluable.