Table of Contents:
Support o f Latinas in Higher Education and STEM
Various resilience factors assist Latinas in STEM majors, in both their studies and their entrance into STEM fields. Rendon, Nora, Bledsoe, and Kanagala (2019) proposed a Latinx student STEM success model that was comprised of six factors that provide support for Latinx students completing their STEM studies. These factors are (a) participation in STEM high- impact practices; (b) having multiple sources of financial support; (c) getting validation from significant others; (d) utilizing their own personal assets and ways of knowing; (e) becoming involved in Latinx-based STEM social and academic extracurricular; and (f) using family cultural wealth learned at home. This model is a holistic approach to embracing Latinx student success within STEM by considering various avenues of support that all influence one another.
The first factor, participation in high-impact practices, has to do with becoming professionally involved with the STEM program of study. One form of professional development that helps Latinas is industry cooperation, like work-relevant trainings at community colleges (Santiago, Taylor, & Gal- deano, 2015). The model shows the importance of STEM-focused social and academic areas of involvement. Becoming involved socially, academically, and professionally helps strengthen the sense of belonging within STEM studies, an issue that Latinas continually face (Martinez et al., 2019). As both women and Students of Color, Latinas are part of two marginalized groups that report the lowest sense of belonging in STEM (Rainey et al., 2018). Female students in engineering, for example, face a statistically significant higher risk of leaving engineering by their fifth semester than male students (Min, Zhang, Long, Anderson, & Ohland, 2011). In addition, for many Latinas/os, common cultural norms that drive attitudes and behavior, including degree completion, are further defined by gender (Cerezo, 2014), which is why broad forms of involvement starting before and during college is important for Latinas’persistence in STEM.
The strong sense of support that Latinas receive from involvement opportunities and environment are related to the acknowledgement of Latinas’ culture. Latino culture places a high value on family consideration, and Latino families, when they are involved, positively influence the attainment of higher education, particularly in STEM (Hernandez, Rana, Alemdar, Rao, & Usselman, 2016). Latino cultural identity is highly important to Latinx students. The aspirations that Latino families have for their children to become family role models and succeed within another culture (Chlup et al., 2018) are part of the cultural wealth Latinas gain at home (Rendon et al., 2019). Cultural wealth fuels the personal assets and resilient characteristics Latinas carry with them in their efforts to succeed. Strengths founded in Latinas’ cultural background have not garnered much research attention (Rendon et al., 2019), but they have been shown to provide aspirational capital that enforces resilience toward a better future (Yosso, 2005). The depths to which embracing Latinas’ cultural identity can help ground them in order to succeed at the postsecondary level, let alone within a STEM department, is multifaceted. Whether in curriculum programming or in providing more mentors at the faculty level, which requires diversity initiatives at the institutional policy level, using
Latinas’ cultural background as a tool to engage them with their educational environment is a necessary strategy'.
Latinas at an R1 Doctoral Hispanic-Serving Institution in Texas
Texas is one of the five US states with the largest Latinx student enrollment, but it is also one of the states with the largest completion gaps, — 17%, between Latinx and White students (Excelencia In Education, 2019). At the university involved in this study, 38,597 undergraduate students were enrolled in the fall 2019 semester at the main campus—50% female (19,360) and 50% male (19,237). Students of Hispanic/Latino ethnicity are the largest minority group at the university, with 13,803 students making up 35.8% of the undergraduate student body.
In the fall of 2017, of the 1,065 ranked faculty' at the university, 39 were Hispanic females and 45 were Hispanic males, together accounting for 7.9% of ranked faculty on campus. In the fall of 2019, of the 1,078 ranked faculty' at the university, 42 were Hispanic females and 47 were Hispanic males, together accounting for 8.3% of ranked faculty on campus. Thus, the institution has shown an increase of Hispanic faculty members, providing more potential mentoring opportunities for Latina students by these new faculty' members; however, the ratio between Latino students and faculty' is still low.
An exploratory/descriptive qualitative case study (Yin, 2009) was used to generate a portrayal of the perceptions of Latina STEM students in an R1 Doctoral HSI in Texas. Hispanic-serving institutions must have a minimum enrollment requirement of at least 25% of the undergraduate students who identify as Latino/Hispanic, and the institution in this study acquired the designation of HSI in 2012. All data collection, analysis, and report writing for this study' were based on qualitative research methods consisting of interviews and observations. These methods were conducted by the researchers in order to understand the complexity of the issue and bring forth overarching findings. To code and analyze the qualitative data, data were organized, sorted, and interpreted based on the participants’ verbatim responses. Audio files and notes to compose a list of themes, categories, and sub-categories from the units of data (e.g., statements of meaning, quotes made in the participants’ own words) were analyzed inductively. Institutional Review Board approval was obtained from the institution.
Qualitative research methods were used to analyze these data through the use of content analysis and constant comparative method (Lincoln & Guba, 1985; Gonzalez & Forister, 2015). The constant comparative method is an analysis that “involves systematically examining and refining the variations in emergent and grounded concepts” (Patton, 2015, p. 439) in order to develop categorized information in the form of themes or codes (Creswell,
2012). The categories that come about can assist in developing a deeper understanding of the data (Grove, 1988). Through this process, the researchers allow themes to emerge from the data instead of prescribing themes to the data. Once themes have emerged, the researchers can further engage the data in an inductive manner to connect codes and themes to the guiding theory (Creswell, 2012). In regard to this study, it was considered inductive because the current study hoped to link the experiences of Latinas in STEM as confirmation of and connection to the existing concept of resilience theory. In doing so, the constant comparative method allowed evidence to develop that tested the working hypotheses (Glaser, 1965).
This exchange process across the available data aligns with the constructivist nature of qualitative research, which seeks to understand the multiple truths that can exist within the data (Gonzalez & Forister, 2015). Connections across interviews arise that connect to the idea guiding the research. Different researchers may find different themes in the data as well, but the constant comparative approach argues for the necessity of pieces that slowly become a whole (Grove, 1988). Furthermore, the interview transcripts are treated as content that gives voice to “the lived experiences of individuals” (Gonzalez & Forister, 2015, p. 98).
Qualitative content analysis is “any qualitative data reduction and sensemaking effort that takes a volume of qualitative material and attempts to identify core consistencies and meanings” (Patton, 2015, p. 790). This method begins early in the data collection process, which allows for reengagement of content as the concept develops in depth (Zhang & Wilde- muth, 2009). This study applied content analysis to each of the interview transcripts to identify recurring words, phrases, and themes throughout. The meanings that developed emerged from patterns and themes in the text (Patton, 2015). This analysis method helps researchers gain deeper insight that goes beyond the text in the data. It allows for participants’ stories to be understood from both their personal perspective and the researchers’ scientific perspectives (Zhang & Wildemuth, 2009). Having both vantage points is important because the lived experiences of the participants are subjective stories that contain the scientific data used to help answer the guiding research questions.
Data for this research consisted of interviews and observations of ten undergraduate students in STEM fields. The researchers used an open-ended interview protocol that was expanded upon and revised as the research progressed. The use of an interview guide was combined with additional data being collected regarding demographic information for the interviewees (Patton, 2015).