Award Date

August 2018

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Chemistry and Biochemistry

First Committee Member

MaryKay Orgill

Second Committee Member

David Hatchett

Third Committee Member

Dong-Chan Lee

Fourth Committee Member

Christine Clark

Number of Pages



President Obama indicated that there are twice as many science and technology jobs available in the U.S. as there are workers for those jobs (Office of the Secretary, 2013). To fulfill the need for more scientists and engineers, there must be increased educational support for the nation’s underrepresented minority (URM) science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) students. URM STEM organizations, such as the National Society of Black Engineers and other URM student-oriented organizations that provide academic and career resources, are widely used on college and university campuses across the nation to support these students both academically and professionally. Future developments of URM STEM organizations should be informed by the voices of the populations they serve: the students of URM groups. In fact, a better understanding of URM students’ science identities can inform the organizations’ efforts to recruit and retain these students in STEM disciplines.

Jones and Abes (2013) expressed that one must understand identity in order to understand college students and their experiences in higher education contexts. Individual students may possess many identities, including a student identity and a race identity, as well as a science identity. The goal of this research study was to explore how URM STEM organizations influence URM STEM students’ science identity development. Accordingly, this study employed identity theory as a theoretical framework to answer the following research questions:

1. What is the composition of a URM STEM student’s science identity?

2. How do URM STEM students perceive that their participation in a URM STEM organization at a major university shapes their science identities?

In this study, identity theory was used to examine URM STEM students’ science identities, the ways they identify themselves as scientists (Malone & Barabino, 2009). We asked URM STEM students who belong to URM STEM organizations on a campus in the Southwestern U.S. to complete an open-ended survey in which they described experiences that have made them feel like scientists, their purposes for joining the organizations, and the specific ways in which they believe the organizations have contributed to their feeling like a scientist. Some of the students who completed the questionnaire were asked to give an interview that focused on their perspectives about how the URM STEM organizations affect their views of themselves as scientists.

Forty-two surveys and eleven interviews were completed by undergraduate and graduate student members of five different URM STEM organizations. All surveyed students are from groups that are traditionally underrepresented in STEM: African-American, Latino, Native American, Pacific Islander, and the female gender. Survey responses were analyzed using a grounded approach in order to determine the specific features of URM STEM organizations that students perceive to affect their science identities.

The results of this study indicate that URM students believe URM STEM organizations make them feel more like scientists by providing opportunities to demonstrate characteristics of scientists (such as being able to showcase their use and understanding of scientific material during research experiences) and participate in activities and events of practicing scientists, such as at outreach events and conferences. The students also perceive an enhancement of their science identities due to the recognition, professional development, networking, and confidence that they obtain as a result of their membership and participation in activities and events presented to them by the URM STEM organizations.

There is a need to produce more talented scientists and engineers to support the future economy of the USA. Additional educational support for the nation’s URM STEM students helps fulfill this need; but more importantly, inclusion of more URM students with diverse backgrounds and different perspectives will impact the level of creativity, innovation, and quality of STEM products and services (Denson, Stallworth, Hailey, & Householder, 2015; National Research Council, 2003). Ultimately, a better understanding of how URM STEM organizations can encourage the development of students’ science identities can contribute to the recruitment and retention of URM students in STEM.


science identity; STEM; underrepresented minority; underrepresented minority STEM organizations


Education | Science and Mathematics Education

File Format


Degree Grantor

University of Nevada, Las Vegas




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