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Pathways to success in science: A phenomenological study, examining the life experiences of African-American women in higher education

Claudette Leanora Giscombe, University of Massachusetts Amherst

Abstract

This study is a qualitative investigation in which five African American women science faculty, in higher education, within the age range of 45–60, were the participants. The data that was collected, over twelve months, was primarily obtained from the in-depth phenomenological interviewing method (Seidman, 1991). The interpretation of the data was the result of ongoing cross analysis of the participants' life experiences, perceptions, and beliefs of the how they navigated and negotiated pathways to careers in the natural sciences, and the meanings they attach to these experiences. The software Ethnograph (V5.0) was used to organize the participants' responses into patterns and emergent themes. The Black women in this study articulated several themes that were critical determinants of their successes and achievements in science careers. From the analysis of the data set, four major findings were identified: (1) "Black Intentional Communities" acted as social agencies for the positive development of the participants; (2) "My World Reality" which was described by the participants as their acceptance of their segregated worlds, not being victims of inequities and injustices, but being resilient and determined to forge on to early academic successes. Early academic successes were identified as precursors and external motivational stimuli to their interests and achievements in science; (3) Their experiences of "Tensions and Double Consciousness" from race and gender negative images and career stereotypes, required the women to make "intra-cultural deviations" from stereotypic career roles and to develop "pragmatic coping strategies" to achieve in science careers and; (4) "Meaning-making"—Significant to the meaning of their journey was the fact that the participants grounded their experiences in a social context rather than in a scientific context and that they ended their journey with expressions of personal satisfactions about their journey and their unique drive and commitment to others, which is, their social responsibility. Implications for future research and the need for a deeper understanding of Black women's experiences in science education and in natural science careers are discussed from a social historic context.

Subject Area

African Americans|Educational sociology|Womens studies|Science education

Recommended Citation

Giscombe, Claudette Leanora, "Pathways to success in science: A phenomenological study, examining the life experiences of African-American women in higher education" (2007). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3289278.
https://scholarworks.umass.edu/dissertations/AAI3289278

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