Date of Award:

8-2018

Document Type:

Dissertation

Degree Name:

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department:

Psychology

Advisor/Chair:

Renee V. Galliher

Abstract

This study includes two papers that aimed to provide insights into the experiences of high-achieving Latinx and Native American college students studying science. We wanted to better understand factors that influence these students’ ability to develop a sense of identity that weaves together their hoped-for careers as scientists as well as their cultural identities. We looked at how they feel about working with mentors in science fields who were like them in a variety of ways. We found that many students (especially those with a stronger sense of cultural identity) valued working with mentors who were similar to them in demographic characteristics; but overall, the whole group of students agreed that the most important areas of similarity in their opinions were their values and thoughts about how to interact with other people. Students who felt they were similar to their mentors on demographic characteristics were also more likely to believe they were similar in values and ways of interacting. We also examined identity development in three different aspects: ethnic identity, scientist identity, and combining the two into one identity that incorporates being a Native American scientist or a Latinx scientist. We found that the students in this study may find it difficult at times to develop a strong sense of their identity that weaves together both parts of themselves without favoring one over the other, and without seeing the two identities as separate or conflicting. At the same time, we found that when mentors do behave in ways that are more similar with students’ ways of interacting, those students develop a stronger sense of themselves as scientists, and when students have a stronger sense of themselves as scientists, they are more likely to commit to their education. We suggest that people working with Native American and Latinx college students studying science should work on understanding those students’ cultural backgrounds and find ways to relate with them, in order to make it more likely that those students will finish school and choose to continue with a career in science.

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