Higher-degree research being undertaken by Deborah Tully




Professor Tony Welch and Associate Professor Deb Hayes

Thesis title:

Talking about staying: experiences that shape persistence for under-represented racial minority women in STEM at different types of liberal arts colleges in the United States



Project description

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 as the 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 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.

The purpose of this study is to gain a better grasp of how the organisational environment and social practices experienced at different types of universities affect the persistence of minority women in STEM. Situated as a mixed-methods study, and drawing on the theoretical frameworks of identity theory, a college socialisation impact model, and cultural and social capital theory, this study aims to offer a comparative analysis of the contributions made by women’s-only colleges, historically black colleges and universities, and co-educational liberal arts colleges towards the retention of underrepresented minority women in STEM.

Deborah Tully graduated from the University of Massachusetts with a bachelor’s degree in Engineering and Operations Research (magna cum laude) and began her professional career in product design. As her family grew and her priorities re-shifted, her lifelong involvement in dance led her down a different path. After receiving her Graduate Diploma in Education (Dance), Deborah began teaching both the HSC dance course and secondary maths subjects in NSW. In 2008, she completed her master’s degree in Mathematics for Teaching at Harvard University. In her most recent professional appointment, Deborah was the Director of College Guidance at an independent school in Boston. While in this role, her current research interests in issues of equity in education developed as she worked with students across the socioeconomic spectrum in guiding them through the U.S. university admissions process. Deborah is in her fourth year of her PhD and hopes to submit her thesis this year.


  • Australian Postgraduate Award (2013-present)
  • International Postgraduate Research Scholarship (2013-2014)
  • Thomas T Roberts Education Fellowship (2014)

Professional and community roles

  • Project Officer for the IMSITE (Inspiring Mathematics and Science in Teacher Education) Project Grant at the University of Sydney. www.imsite.edu.au
  • Ad-hoc Reviewer: European Journal of Engineering Education (2010-2015)

Conference presentations