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Discussion

This study strengthens understanding of the causes and effects of Latina resilience in the STEM fields by offering a firsthand student perspective. The findings reinforce the importance of understanding the interplay between culture, background experiences, and family support in helping Latinas persist and graduate within STEM. Previous studies on Latina identity formation by the principal investigator found that family, culture, and past life experiences significantly influence Latinas’ retention and decisions to attend college, particularly as STEM majors (Gonzalez & Myers, 2016). Some preliminary results of this study confirm previous research findings but also indicate that participants from this study learned from obstacles by overcoming challenges and transforming them into successful experiences. These mechanisms all play a role in developing resilience in the Latina STEM college student and in how they demonstrate such resilience. The participants in the study provided examples that illustrate the positive aspects they find in being women, STEM students, and Latinas. These areas of inspiration are the ones that institutional leadership and policymakers need to tap into in order to better guide this population on a path of resilience and success.

Because of the burgeoning Latinx population in the United States, Latina college student success is essential for the nation’s STEM future. Latinas continue to show heightened interest in STEM but are running into an established system and culture that does not historically support either females or minorities. Hispanic-serving institutions are trying to change that environmental pattern by trying to embrace their designation and becoming more purposefully Hispanic-serving (Garcia, 2019). As research trends have shown, how this designation translates into Latinx student success is a relevant question under investigation. This study provides a voiced direction to that question and a request for action to HSIs. Informing the research in regard to what Latinas are facing and feeling and how they are responding to the obstacles allows for a better understanding of the way Latinas interact in the existing social climates of higher education, especially in a male-dominated field. Through their stories, Latinas reinforce the ideas of persisting in STEM while facing difficulties presented to them due to gender, ethnicity, or unwelcomeness. Their backgrounds provide them with the desire to succeed and move up in life, while their academic experiences showcase their desire to mentor and be mentored, persevere, and be resilient.

Recommendations for Policy and Practice

Castellanos (2018) suggested that institutional leaders should consider policies that support Latina involvement in academic programs and engagement through faculty mentorship relationships. Student—faculty relationships enhance accountability' and have been shown repeatedly to be relevant in Latinx student success (Rodriguez & Oseguera, 2015). These policies should also include institutional support that takes both cultural and gender aspects into account, particularly in HSIs.

Institutional leadership should also look within their own ranks to improve the situation for females in STEM. Involving institutional leaders is essential in implementing change goals and advancing cultural change for women in STEM because they can voice concerns and can call the gender issues within STEM to attention (Austin, 2011; Rodriguez & Oseguera, 2015). Although the literature emphasizes persistence toward degree completion, the examination of Latina STEM majors’college experience is also vital for learning about new support measures administrators can take to successfully lead Latinas toward STEM careers (Castellanos, 2018). Empowering Latinas to feel capable in their math and science skills from an early age is also essential in improving their perceptions of self as STEM majors in college (Fouad, Santana, Lent, & Brown, 2017). With healthy social support via relatable role models, minority' women like Latinas are better able to form their own self-identities as future workers in STEM (Fouad et al., 2017). Increasing the number of Latinas in STEM roles postgraduation is important for creating relatable role-model relationships—which is crucial because both women and Latinos, as separate groups, continue to be underrepresented in science and engineering education and employment (National Science Foundation, 2019).

In academia, Latinas as STEM faculty provide this same role-model dynamic. Research indicates that HSIs provide supportive STEM learning environments when they have a large concentration of Latinx faculty and peers, which results in strong faculty—student advising relationships (Revelo & Baber, 2018). Although seeing other Latinas find success in

STEM is important for the formation of these relationships, positive relationships with any faculty members can also help. Studies have shown that professors who encourage female students and create supportive relationships with them help those female students persist in their STEM major studies (Skolnik, 2015). With proper support, Latinas have shown equal or greater persistence rates than their Hispanic male peers (Fleming & McPhail, 2019). Tapping into this possibility is crucial for better serving Latinas in STEM. This consideration is vital when considering that Latinas, heretofore underserved as students and neglected as contributors to society, represent an integral piece of the surging Hispanic population and are thus a critical component of both the present and future of the United States.

 
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