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Examining the Effects of STEM Climate on the Mental Health of Graduate Women from Diverse Racial/Ethnic Backgrounds

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Conference

2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access

Location

Virtual On line

Publication Date

June 22, 2020

Start Date

June 22, 2020

End Date

June 26, 2021

Conference Session

Mental Health of Graduate Students

Tagged Division

Graduate Studies

Tagged Topic

Diversity

Page Count

21

DOI

10.18260/1-2--34617

Permanent URL

https://peer.asee.org/34617

Download Count

1017

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Paper Authors

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Amanda C. Arnold Arizona State University

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Kerrie G. Wilkins-Yel University of Massachusetts Boston

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Dr. Kerrie G. Wilkins-Yel is an assistant professor of counseling psychology at the University of Massachusetts Boston. She examines the psychological science of environmental agents that influence persistence intentions among women, particularly women of color, in STEM.

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Jennifer M. Bekki Arizona State University

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She teaches courses in the engineering and manufacturing engineering programs as well as programs in the Engineering Education Systems and Design PhD program. Her research interests include topics related to student persistence, STEM doctoral student experiences, faculty mentorship and development, modeling and analysis of complex manufacturing systems, and the development of new discrete event simulation methodologies. Bekki is the co-director of the interdisciplinary, National Science Foundation supported CareerWISE research program, which strives to: 1) understand the experiences of diverse women who are pursuing and leaving doctoral programs in science and engineering and 2) increase women’s persistence in science and engineering doctoral programs through the development and dissemination of an online resilience and interpersonal communication training program.

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Bianca L. Bernstein Arizona State University

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Bianca L. Bernstein, Ph.D. is Professor of Counseling and Counseling Psychology in the College of Integrative Sciences and Arts at Arizona State University. Dr. Bernstein guides the CareerWISE research program, supported by the National Science Foundation since 2006. Her over 250 publications and presentations and over $4 M in external support have focused on the application of psychological science to the career advancement of women and underrepresented minorities and the development of effective learning environments for graduate education. She is a fellow of the American Psychological Association and American Association for the Advancement of Science and has won a number of awards for her work on equity, inclusiveness and mentoring of students and faculty. Dr. Bernstein holds a bachelor’s in psychology from the University of California at Berkeley and graduate degrees in Counseling Psychology from the University of California at Santa Barbara.

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Madison Natarajan University of Massachusetts Boston

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Madison Natarajan is a doctoral student in the Counseling Psychology Ph.D. program at University of Massachusetts Boston. Madison received her Master’s of Science in Clinical Mental Health Counseling at Lipscomb University in Nashville, TN. Her research and clinical interests stem from a feminist/intersectional perspective looking at religion and sexuality, evaluating how religious identities and morals influence self-concept in the areas of sexuality, sexual expression, self-esteem, and sexual agency.

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Ashley K. Randall Arizona State University

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Roxanna Francies Arizona State University

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Chinwendu Elyse Okwu University of Pittsburgh

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Abstract

A growing number of reports suggest that a mental health crisis is plaguing STEM fields (Evans, et al., 2018). In fact, studies indicate that graduate students are six times as likely to experience elevated levels of stress, anxiety, and depression compared to the general population (Evans, et al., 2018). Graduate students from marginalized backgrounds (e.g., students of color, women, etc.) are among those to experience the highest levels of distress. These results are consistent with the extant literature that highlights the myriad of negative STEM encounters endured by women in STEM from diverse racial/ethnic backgrounds (Wilkins-Yel, Hyman, Zounlome 2018). While mental health distress is on the rise, we know very little about the ways in which STEM departmental climates influence students’ mental health. This study seeks to provide insights into the ways in which STEM environments influence the mental health and wellbeing of STEM graduate women from diverse racial/ethnic backgrounds.

Twenty-nine women in STEM doctoral programs were interviewed as part of a larger NSF project related to studying the impact of interpersonal support on persistence decisions among women doctoral students in STEM. Fourteen participants endorsed experiencing significant mental health concerns that arose as a result of academic challenges (e.g., lack of advisor support, comprehensive exams, negative lab environment, etc.). Participants in the data reported here range in age from 26 to 43 and include early career professionals who completed their doctoral degree (N = 9) and women who chose to discontinue their PhD prematurely (N = 5). Participants identified as Hispanic/LatinX (n=2), European American or White (n=4), Black or African American (n=3), and mixed race (n=5). Participants represented eight STEM fields: engineering (n=5), biological and biomedical sciences (n=3), chemistry (n=3), computer and information sciences (n=1), and mathematics and statistics (n=3). The full paper will present findings from a thematic analysis of the interviews with a focus on characterizing the ways in which STEM departmental climate affect graduate women’s mental health and the impact of elevated distress on persistence decisions.

Arnold, A. C., & Wilkins-Yel, K. G., & Bekki, J. M., & Bernstein, B. L., & Natarajan, M., & Randall, A. K., & Francies, R., & Okwu, C. E. (2020, June), Examining the Effects of STEM Climate on the Mental Health of Graduate Women from Diverse Racial/Ethnic Backgrounds Paper presented at 2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual On line . 10.18260/1-2--34617

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