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Engaging Voices: Methods for Studying Stem Education at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (hbcus)

  • 31/03/2022
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Purpose: this paper aims to discuss the methods that were used to do egalitarian research with ten historically black colleges and universities (hbcus). Rather than doing research on these institutions, the authors worked with them to understand their successes and build upon their capacity in the science, technology, engineering and math (stem) areas. Through this process, the authors aimed to bring exposure and interest to the practices that hbcus use to increase and nurture success in african american students practices that are rarely used in mainstream stem programs and, in fact, run counter to well-established practices across stem. The goal is to challenge traditional methods for pursuing stem education research as the authors offer alternative methods the uplift and empower hbcus. Design/methodology/approach: the authors used the constant comparative method in developing, testing, and writing-up the hbcu success stories. The constant comparative method collects data in a systematic way by engaging in ongoing exploration and verification of findings with key stakeholders (in this case, the teachers, students and staff at the hbcus). Across the ten hbcus in the sample, at least one success story or model at each institution was identified; in some instances, there were more. Findings: the research project had several implications for the social and economic health of society. First, supporting the work of hbcus contributes to the diversification of the stem fields and addresses the severe drought in the stem workforce. It is without doubt that a diverse workforce the unique perspectives and backgrounds of each individual has a positive and significant influence on progress and innovation in any field. Despite increasingly growing minority communities across the country, many blacks continue to face roadblocks that impede their opportunities and abilities in the k-20 pipeline and stem education, specifically. Because hbcus have a long history and record of tearing down those roadblocks and contributing black students to the stem workforce, they are prime and optimal sites for long-term investment. Second, improving the abilities of hbcus to support student success in stem also increases the likelihood of greater stem minority teachers and faculty. A significant factor in the success of minority students in stem is the opportunity to be taught and mentored by faculty members that look like them and/or deeply understand their personal background and struggles. For many black students, the presence of a black science professor can improve and retain student interest and aspiration in stem. But with so few black stem faculty members, many students can easily fall through the cracks. Third, aside from the nations security and health, supporting hbcus work in stem student achievement represents immeasurable benefits for the individual and his/her family for many generations to come (i.E. Society overall). Occupations in stem are plentiful and fruitful for those who achieve the required credentials. Increasing opportunities for black students to pursue these stem careers can establish a path toward upward social mobility. The realization of these benefits is contingent upon the investment in early achievement in stem courses. Research limitations/implications: several research based outcomes are scheduled to result from this project, including a major policy report on hbcus and their approaches to stem education (co-constructed with the hbcu representatives); several peer reviewed articles (authored by us as well as the hbcu representatives); a national convening (showcasing both the best practices and the results of the hbcus funded capacity building projects with the hbcu representatives as the primary speakers rather than us); a website featuring the work of the 10 hbcus, active use of social media to disseminate the findings of the project; several op-eds written for a general audience and co-authored with hbcu representatives; and an authored book published by a university press. Practical implications: best practices gleaned from this project are being shared in a scholarly manner, but they will be shared in ways that are accessible to practitioners, including presidents, faculty, academic advisors, student success staff and other hbcu practitioners. In addition, best practices will be shared with majority colleges and universities to strengthen and improve practices more broadly in stem. The authors are working with organizations such as the association of american universities, association of public land grant universities and the american association of colleges and universities to showcase the work of hbcus and disseminate information. Social implications: conducting research projects in which the research inquiry is co-constructed and the resulting research products are also co-constructed and even co-authored is an empowering and collaborative way to work across institutional types. More importantly, this approach brings attention to those researchers and teachers at hbcus that are doing the day-to-day work with students, training them to be scientists, doctors and professors. Too often, only those conducting studies on stem are credited with discovering success models for student learning. The authors think that those who have created these models and use them should be recognized and included in the research and dissemination process, and the authors encourage others to think more broadly and openly about collaborative research that engages the voices of hbcu researchers and students. Originality/value: this project also has much to teach others about collaborating through research. First, collaborating when conducting research related to stem is essential, as it encourages collaboration within stem and among stem researchers. Hbcu researchers that were a part of our project biologists, physicist and chemists were encouraged to work across disciplinary lines and together to understand their own stem education practices more fully. 2016, Emerald group publishing limited.

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