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Project Description


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. We hypothesize that Native American cultural roles may intersect with perceived gender roles to either enhance or undermine student’s persistence in STEM disciplines. We further hypothesize 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. Our 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.


We 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. We 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. We will utilize a mixed-method, longitudinal approach of quantitative analysis using well-validated instruments, and qualitative analysis of open-ended survey responses and in-depth interviews.


Intellectual Merit

This project is based on previous work on the influences of social support factors on retention in STEM disciplines in college, as well as research on differences between Native men and women’s experiences in higher education. Two pilot studies performed at MSU indicate the importance and feasibility of this study. One study found that little or no systematic assessment of these programs has been done, despite the need for such data. A second study served as a pilot for this project, and showed the project team’s ability to gather significant data from Native American students in academic support programs.

Both MSU and NAU are particularly well situated to play a leadership role in identifying the social factors determining STEM career success for Native American men and women. Both are premier institutions serving Native Americans, have relatively large Native American student populations, and also have formal academic support structures for Native American students in STEM. The two schools have formed a strong collaborative bond, and the project team has the contacts and expertise to recruit Native American student respondents and analyze both qualitative and quantitative data gathered for the study.


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. We anticipate that 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.


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View Text-only Version Text-only Updated: 1/09/06
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