STEMujeres: a case study of the life stories of first-generation Latina engineers and scientists




Vielma, Karina I.

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Research points to the many obstacles that first-generation, Latina students face when attempting to enter fields in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, STEM. This qualitative, case study examined the personal and educational experiences of first-generation Latina women who successfully navigated the STEM educational pipeline earning bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees in various fields of engineering. Three research questions guided the study: (1) How does a first-generation Latina engineer and scientist describe her life experiences as she became interested in STEM? (2) How does she describe her educational experiences as she navigated the educational pipeline in the physics, mathematics, and/or engineering field(s)? (3) How did she respond to challenges, obstacles and microaggressions, if any, while navigating the STEM educational pipeline? The study was designed using a combination of Critical Race Theory frameworks—Chicana feminist theory and racial microaggressions. Through a life history case study approach, the women shared their stories of success. With the participants’ help, influential persons in their educational paths were identified and interviewed. Data were analyzed using crystallization and thematic results indicated that all women in this study identified their parents as planting the seed of interest through the introduction of mathematics. The women unknowingly prepared to enter the STEM fields by taking math and science coursework. They were guided to apply to STEM universities and academic programs by others who knew about their interest in math and science including teachers, counselors, and level-up peers—students close in age who were just a step more advanced in the educational pipeline. The women also drew from previous familial struggles to guide their perseverance and motivation toward educational degree completion. The lives of the women where complex and intersected with various forms of racism including gender, race, class, legality and power. In many instances, the women used their knowledge to help other STEMujeres advance.


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Chaos theory, Chicana feminist theory, Education, Latina, Racial microaggressions, STEM education



Educational Leadership and Policy Studies