Need: Black scientists have achieved excellence in their fields because they were able to persist in earning undergraduate science degrees despite many barriers. To support Black students’ persistence in science, we need to understand how they succeed in the face of systemic challenges. One way to do this is to investigate the strengths and assets that academically-successful Black science majors possess and the context in which they are succeeding. Then we can use the knowledge we gain to inform actions that build on the strengths and assets of Black science majors, while improving science learning environments for Black students.
Guiding Question: We used the Community Cultural Wealth framework to understand the strengths and assets that Black undergraduates bring to their science majors. Community cultural wealth consists of six forms of capital or “knowledge, skills, abilities, and contacts” that students of color possess and can use for educational success (Yosso, 2005, p.77). We asked the research question, “What forms of Community Cultural Wealth do Black undergraduate students use to succeed in their science majors despite the racial climate they experience?”
Outcomes: Using a participatory action research approach, we partnered with Black science majors to study other Black science majors in the final year of their undergraduate degree programs. Together we examined Black science majors’ success in two contexts: (1) a public research university, and (2) an associate’s/baccalaureate college. We collected data using two semi-structured interviews and a photo-elicitation project. Three themes emerged from content and thematic analysis of the data from a public research university (Stanton et al, 2022). First, Black science majors use their capital to navi¬gate the racial climate at a predominantly white institution. Second, Black students use internal strengths as capital to succeed in their science majors. Third, Black science majors create virtual and physical spaces where they can share their capital and thrive. Data from an associate’s/baccalaureate college were analyzed using holistic approaches. We found that Black science majors experience multiple forms of oppression and financial challenges, but they are able to persist through support from family, faculty, and peers, along with faith-based practices and artistic expression (Breeden et al, submitted). We used results from these two studies to offer suggestions for researchers and instructors who want to take action to support the success of Black science majors.
Broader Impacts: The undergraduate researchers we partnered with developed and led a workshop for science faculty on racial implicit bias. They used results from our Community Cultural Wealth research to help shift unconscious beliefs science faculty may have about Black students. As Black science majors themselves, they also guided workshop participants in creating action plans with steps that are relevant for helping improve the racial climate in their courses. Over 60 University of Georgia instructors have participated in the workshop and a professionally recorded version of the workshop will be available online in Fall 2022. Undergraduate researchers also used the results from our study to advise a group of faculty who are working to transform science teaching at their institution.
Darris Means, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA