Date of Award

Fall 12-2017

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Center for Science and Math Education

Committee Chair

Dr. Sherry S. Herron

Committee Chair Department

Center for Science and Math Education

Committee Member 2

Dr. Richard Mohn

Committee Member 2 Department

Educational Studies and Research

Committee Member 3

Dr. Kyna Shelley

Committee Member 3 Department

Educational Studies and Research

Committee Member 4

Dr. Sarah Morgan

Committee Member 4 Department

Polymers and High Performance Materials

Committee Member 5

Dr. Chante Calhoun

Abstract

The purpose of this study was to examine undergraduate students majoring in science, technology, engineering, and math disciplines perception of traits an ideal mentor should possess, and to determine if these traits had positive results on their identification with science. With a large number of workers in STEM disciplines retiring, there is a projected need for more underrepresented minorities to fill these positions. In order to increase diversity in the workforce, efforts must be made to retain underrepresented minorities in STEM education beginning at the undergraduate level and continuing throughout the graduate level. This intervention should begin as early as the freshman year and continue beyond the sophomore year, considering this group of students lose interest in STEM, exhibit a sense of hopelessness which in turn leads to these students changing their majors and/or leaving the discipline altogether. Increasing the representation of individuals from underrepresented groups in STEM fields is a function of pipeline flow (McGee et al., 2012), which is measured as the rate at which trainees enter and advance through the pipeline to the workforce.

This study provided demographics of one hundred seventy five (175) students attending two private Historically Black institutions in the state of Alabama. Survey questions were structured to analyze quantitative data. This primary method of analysis utilized descriptive statistics to measure the most important indicators that influence students’ perceptions of an ideal mentor. The collection of quantitative data was adapted from instruments designed by Dr. Gail Rose (2003) and Dr. Sylvia James (2007). Rose (2003) Guidance, Integrity, and Relationship subscales were used to assess values that students placed on each subscale. Dr. James’ scale examined the role of identity and other sociocultural factors as causes of the science achievement gap for African American students. She further emphasized the importance of informal programs or non-school settings in promoting identities that are conducive to science learning in African Americans.

Three research questions were considered. The overarching research question was, what ideal traits do students report as being the most important in an ideal mentor that could be a contributing factor in their persistence in STEM? Research question one was: to what degree do African American STEM students at two HBCUs in Alabama identify as a scientist as determined by Science Identity Scale Scores (SIS)? Research question two was, what is the relationship of Ideal Mentor Scale Scores (IMS) and Science Identity Scale Scores (SIS) among African American STEM students at these HBCUs?

Frequency data and Pearson Correlation were used to analyze data that were obtained from the web-based surveys via Qualtrics. Findings from this study showed that students identified 11 of the 34 items from the Ideal Mentor Scale (Rose, 2003) as being ‘very’ and ‘extremely important’ as it relates to ideal traits of a mentor. However, in regards to research question one, study participants did not exhibit a strong identification with science. Research question two, when looking at the relationship between the Ideal Mentor Scale Scores and Science Identity Scale Scores, there was not a statistically significant relationship between the two, although there was a statistically significant relationship among the three subscales of guidance, relationship, and integrity, with students valuing integrity more so than guidance and relationship.

Findings from the study also showed that ninety-nine of the participants in the study currently do not have a mentor. Consequently these students demonstrated the ability to give their perception of an ideal mentor.

The two universities used in the research study were Tuskegee University and Stillman College. Recommendations from the study will be provided to both colleges and universities that have existing STEM mentoring programs as well as those that do not have STEM mentoring programs resulting from this data. Parents, and local, state, and federal government agencies will also benefit from the results of this study. Furthermore, the recommendations will provide said individuals with pertinent information describing the potential success of students when provided the appropriate support or intervention.

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