Title

Developing science talent in minority students: Perspectives of past participants in a summer mentorship program

Date of Completion

January 2000

Keywords

Education, Educational Psychology|Education, Special|Education, Sciences

Degree

Ph.D.

Abstract

The underrepresentation of women and ethnic minorities in science has been well documented. Research efforts are directed toward understanding the high attrition rate in science course selection as students advance through high school and college. The attrition rate is especially high for females and minority students. ^ Since 1980 the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Connecticut has conducted a “Minority Research Apprentice Program” to attract students by expanding their knowledge of research and technology. The goal of the program is to encourage students from underrepresented groups to eventually select careers in the field of science. ^ This qualitative study of past participants explored factors that related to students' decisions to pursue or not to pursue careers in science. Descriptive statistics and qualitative data collected from surveys and interviews of twenty former apprentices, along with comparative case studies of four selected individuals, revealed the educational interventions, personal traits and social supports that helped guide students' eventual career choice decisions. Participation in gifted programs, advanced placement courses, and talented high school science teachers all played a critical role in assisting these individuals in developing their potential interest. Qualitative data revealed the role of the Minority Research Apprentice Program played in helping talented individuals gain an appreciation of the nature of scientific research through apprenticeship and involvement with authentic projects. For all those involved, it assisted them in clarifying their eventual career choices. ^ Individuals identified the lack of challenge of the introductory science courses, the commitment science requires, and the nature of laboratory work as reasons for leaving the field. Females who left science switched majors more frequently than males. Qualitative data revealed the dilemma that multipotentiality and lack of career counseling played in the confusion over which profession to pursue. ^ Ethnicity played a significant role in the retention of minority apprentices in science. Asian American males and females reported having more restricted career choices due to their parents' expectations. Females from all ethnic groups, including those who selected careers in other fields, experienced career conflict, switched majors more frequently, and had a greater sense of dissatisfaction with their eventual career choice. ^