Ms Deborah Tully

PhD candidate

A35 - Education Building
The University of Sydney

Telephone +61 2 9351 6358

Thesis work

Thesis title: Discovering Pathways to Persistence for Underrepresented Racial Minority Women in STEM: A Comparative Study of Women's, Historically Black, and Coeducational Liberal Arts Colleges in the United States

Supervisors: Debra HAYES , Anthony WELCH

Thesis abstract:

The low participation rate of university students in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), specifically those from underrepresented minority groups, is an area of national concern in the United States. The U.S. Federal Government has spent more than $1.1 billion to secure a well-trained STEM workforce with a principal aim of focusing upon groups that are underrepresented in STEM. While these efforts have produced increased minority student STEM enrolment, retention results are less impressive. Minority women comprise more than 20% of the U.S. population yet earn less than 10% of STEM degrees. As the American population grows increasingly diverse, the scale of this underrepresentation poses major equity issues. Existing scholarly work points to the need to further understand the undergraduate experience of these women. The purpose of this study is to gain a better grasp of how the organisational environment and social practices experienced at different types of liberal arts colleges affect the persistence of underrepresented racial minority (URM) women in STEM. Private colleges, in general, exhibit higher retention rates for students in STEM, and graduates from liberal arts colleges are twice as likely to earn a PhD in science when compared to graduates from other baccalaureate granting institutions. Drawing on identity theory, a college socialisation impact model, and theories of cultural and social capital, this mixed-methods study aims to offer a comparative analysis of the contributions made by women’s colleges, historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), and coeducational liberal arts colleges towards promoting persistence for URM women in STEM. Exploring the experiences of successful URM female STEM students may illuminate how future practices and policies can be shaped within the landscape of liberal arts colleges to promote further gains for minority women pursuing a STEM pathway, with an eye towards shaping a more equitable and diversified STEM workforce.

Awards and honours

  • International Postgraduate Research Scholarship (IPRS)

  • Australian Postgraduate Award (APA)

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