Stark inequities evident in the low representation of Black women in Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics, and Medicine (STEMM) careers persist despite considerable investment in the diversification of the education-to-workplace STEMM pipeline. College participation rates of Black women measure 4-5% of all degrees in biological and physical sciences, 2-3% of degrees in computer science and math, and roughly 1% in engineering. Ultimately, Black women make up only 2.5% of the workforce in STEMM-related fields, indicating that they chronically experience stalled professional advancement. Because there are so few longitudinal studies in either formal or informal settings, educators and researchers lack critical insights into why BA/BS credentialed Black women drop out of STEMM careers at high rates upon entering the workforce. This Research in Service to Practice project will conduct a longitudinal examination of key professional outcomes and life trajectories among adult Black women who enrolled Women in Natural Sciences (WINS), a 40-year-old out-of-school time (OST) high school STEM enrichment program. Prior research on WINS documents that alumnae outperform national averages on all metrics related to STEMM advancement up through college graduation. This study will test the hypothesis that such success continues for these cohorts as they pursue life goals and navigate the workforce. Findings from this study will promote the progress of science, pivotal to NSF’s mission as the project builds knowledge about supportive and frustrating factors for Black women in STEMM careers. Strategic impact lies in the novel participant-centered research methods that amplify Black women’s voices and increase both accuracy and equity in informal STEM learning research.
This research probes the experiences of Black women at a critical phase of their workforce participation when BS/BA credentialed WINS alumnae establish their careers (ages 26-46). The team will conduct a longitudinal comparative case study of outcomes and life trajectories among 20 years of WINS cohorts (1995-2015). Research questions include (1) What do the life-journey narratives of WINS alumnae in adulthood reveal about influential factors in the socio-cultural ecological systems of Black women in STEMM? (2) What are the long-term outcomes among WINS women regarding education, STEMM and other careers, socio-economic status, and STEMM self-efficacy and interest? How do these vary? (3) What salient program elements in WINS are highlighted in alumnae narratives as relevant to Black women’s experiences in adulthood? How do these associations vary? (4) How do selected outcomes (stated in RQ2) and life story narratives among non-enrolled applicants compare to program alumnae? and (5) How do salient components in the WINS program associate with socio-cultural factors in regard to Black women’s careers and other life goals? Participants include 100 Black WINS alumnae as an intervention group and a matched comparison group of 100 Black women who successfully applied to the WINS program but did not or could not enroll. Measurable life outcomes and life trajectory narratives with maps of experiences from both groups will be studied via a convergent mixed methods design inclusive of quantitative and qualitative analyses. Comparisons of outcomes and trajectories will be made between the study groups. Further, associations between alumnae’s long-term outcomes and how they correlate their WINS experiences with other socio-cultural factors in their lives will be identified. It is anticipated that findings will challenge extant knowledge and pinpoint the most effective characteristics of and appropriate measures for studying lasting impacts of OST STEMM programs for Black women and girls. The project is positioned to contribute substantially to national efforts to increase participation of Black women in STEMM.
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