African-American males in STEM: a qualitative exploration of persistence to graduate school

Brief Literature Review: The literature review includes an exploration of the underrepresentation of African-American males in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) undergraduate majors and the theoretical frameworks that guide those experiences. Also, the literature discusses factors related to persistence, retention, advising, and mentorship. Finally, it presents an exploration of how leadership plays a role in the education of Black males in STEM majors. Statement of the Problem: African-American males are lagging behind in bachelor's degree attainment; only 6.2% of science and engineering bachelor’s degree recipients are African-American males (National Science Foundation, 2014). This number has remained largely unchanged since 2002, when it was 6.1%. With so few African-American males completing STEM bachelor’s degrees, the number of advanced degree seekers in STEM fields is only 4.8%. Additionally, the growth is essentially flat, only slightly up from 4.5% in 2003. It is important to look at the factors that contribute to the likelihood of African-American males continuing their STEM education beyond undergraduate work to increase diversity in academia and the workforce. Methodology: This study utilized qualitative data analysis and narrative inquiry to explore the shared experiences of five African-American males all declared in undergraduate STEM majors during the 2016-2017 academic year at a large, public research intuition. Conclusions and Recommendations: Based on the data, African-American males are more likely to persist in undergraduate STEM majors with financial support and mentorship. They also benefit from counter-spaces created specifically to support their inclusion on campus. While Black male students do report negative experiences while pursuing or related to, their STEM major, they are more likely to persist with support early on from institutional resources. The data also showed that while graduate school is a likely consideration for most Black male STEM majors, their interest in careers opportunities is the more likely outcome of their undergraduate degree completion.