Graduate Thesis Or Dissertation


Undergraduate Research as a Tool to Promote Diversity, Equity, and Success in STEM: Exploring Potential Barriers and Solutions to Access for Students from Historically Underrepresented Groups Public Deposited

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  • In response to concern over a lack of diversity in STEM postsecondary programs, institutions of higher education across the nation have promoted opportunities for undergraduate research. Such opportunities have been shown to enrich student experiences and success, especially for students from historically underrepresented groups. While these benefits have been fairly well studied, more research is needed to better understand how students from historically underrepresented racial/ethnic groups (Black/African American, Latin@, Native American/Alaska Native, and/or Pacific Islander/Native Hawaiian) come to interact with undergraduate research opportunities. In this dissertation, I present three manuscripts that collectively explore issues related to these students’ access to opportunities for undergraduate research. In the first manuscript, I take a policy perspective to explore a wide range of institutional-level tactics and strategies intended to promote equity and inclusion in undergraduate research experiences. In doing so, I advance research-based recommendations toward increasing the success and persistence of students from groups historically underrepresented in postsecondary STEM, explicitly through involvement in undergraduate research experiences. I highlight three guiding strategies for structuring institutional diversity action plans that have the potential to promote equitable access to undergraduate research experiences, and five specific tactics that institutional leaders will find attainable in relatively short time frames. I also offer a questionnaire for institutional self-assessment related to these tactics. In the second manuscript, I detail a systematic literature review that allows for a critical synthesis of the scholarship that has (and has not) been put forth toward understanding students’ barriers to accessing undergraduate research. From review of relevant articles (n=18), I report a dearth of scholarship concerning issues of access specifically for students of color in STEM, as well as a limited use of theoretical/analytical frameworks employed, especially those that employed critical lenses to explore issues of access to undergraduate research. I present an extensive list of barriers to accessing undergraduate research experiences across disciplines and demographics that may serve as basis for robust future research concerning access to undergraduate research for students of color. In the third manuscript, I use semi-structured interviews with faculty members and STEM students of color in engineering to understand their experiences in facilitating and accessing undergraduate research, respectively. I document a wide range of potential barriers to accessing undergraduate research for engineering students of color, as well as for students from other historically underrepresented groups. While there was some overlap between faculty and student responses to questions about selection criteria and access to undergraduate research, I also diagnose an area of misalignment between student and faculty perspectives that may serve as an additional barrier to student access to undergraduate research: students’ misguided perceptions about the importance of limited metrics of academic performance (e.g. high grades) towards securing participation in undergraduate research. Through the manuscripts outlined in this dissertation, I aim to bring attention to the differential access to undergraduate research experiences for all students that I argue represents a pressing, and largely unspoken, equity issue in higher education. I look forward to building on this work by continuing to offer viable solutions to key stakeholders at institutions of higher education, interrogating existing practices of student placement into undergraduate research experiences, and creating consciousness regarding equitable opportunities for experiential learning at institutions of higher education.
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