This study will investigate how Native American men and women differentially negotiate cultural expectations as well as social support structures to persist in STEM (Science Technology, Engineering and Math) disciplines. The researchers hypothesize that Native American cultural roles may intersect with perceived gender roles to either enhance or undermine student?s persistence in STEM disciplines. Further, the study is based on the hypothesis that Native American men and women differentially interact with formal and informal support structures in a university setting and may benefit from different specific interventions in pursuing STEM careers.

The project has two aims: Aim 1: Investigate how the gendered experiences of Native American men and women influence their persistence in STEM disciplines. Aim 2: Investigate how specific formal and informal support structures differentially benefit Native American men and Native American women in STEM disciplines.

The study will follow 240 total Native American men and women in STEM majors at 2 institutions, Montana State University and Northern Arizona University, and perform in-depth interviews with at least 60 of these students. Researchers will examine the differential impact across gender of social support structures, informal academic support structures, and formal academic support program and of the persistence of these students in STEM, with the goal of identifying the specific structures that lead to Native American student persistence in STEM. The study utilizes a mixed-method, longitudinal approach of quantitative analysis using well-validated instruments, and qualitative analysis of open-ended survey responses and in-depth interviews.

BROADER IMPACTS Native American students are underrepresented in higher education, particularly in science and engineering. Native Americans represent 1.6% of college-age students, but are awarded less than 1% of college degrees, and only about 0.7% of science and engineering bachelor degrees. Additionally, there is a gender disparity in the makeup of Native American students in educational settings. Since 1994, the increase in Native American students entering college appears to be due mostly to the increased enrollment of Native American women. It is therefore critical to study impact of gender on Native American student success; both in relationship to mainstream cultural expectations associated with gender as well as gendered expectations that may stem from traditional Native cultures. The study will identify specific social and academic support structures important for Native American men?s and women?s persistence in STEM, and expect to make concrete, data-driven recommendations to academic institutions that lead to more equitable learning environments for Native students in these disciplines.

This award is co-funded by the EPSCoR and the Research on Gender in Science and Engineering programs.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Human Resource Development (HRD)
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Jolene K. Jesse
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Montana State University
United States
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