Exploring STEM Identity Development, Motivation and Problem-Solving Preferences of African American Men Pursuing Undergraduate Degrees

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Virginia Tech


Science, Technology, Engineering, Math (STEM) and agriculture are rapidly growing fields and important disciplines for meeting the needs of a growing population, including those related to food access and sustainability. However, there are not enough qualified employees entering into these fields, and additionally, those entering into the fields are not often from underrepresented groups, presenting a need for an increased push to boost the entrance and retention of minorities into degree programs that will prepare them for employment in fields of STEM or agriculture. African American men are one population that has even more disparate numbers of students entering and persisting in these fields and there exists a gap in information about the lived experiences and perceptions of members of this group within this field. This study utilized a phenomenological lens to explore the experiences of self-identified African American men currently enrolled in a STEM or agricultural degree program. Individual problem-solving preferences, academic motivation and subscription to black identity were examined using a conceptual framework adapted from Kirton's Cognitive Functions schema and the Organismic socio-behavioral perspective. This conceptual framework was viewed through a lens of critical race theory in order to determine the salience of these factors on the development of a STEM identity among African American males. The results of this study interrogate current educational practices to provide information about student perceptions, experiences with belonging and coping strategies utilized to overcome real and perceived barriers to STEM or agricultural degree attainment giving voice to this underrepresented group. Data from this study provide information to better inform STEM recruitment and retention practices and include recommendations for future research.



STEM identity, motivation, retention, KAI, Critical Race Theory