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Increasing Academic Success for Underrepresented Minority PhD Graduate STEM Students Through Self-Advocacy Education

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2022 CoNECD (Collaborative Network for Engineering & Computing Diversity)


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

February 20, 2022

Start Date

February 20, 2022

End Date

July 20, 2022

Conference Session

Technical Session 2 - Paper 3: Increasing Academic Success for Underrepresented Minority PhD Graduate STEM Students Through Self-Advocacy Education

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Diversity and CoNECD Paper Sessions

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Paper Authors


Carmen M Lilley The University of Illinois at Chicago

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Dr. Lilley’s research interests in engineering education focus on professional development of engineering students at the undergraduate and graduate level. In particular, she is interested in the nuances of how the intersection of race/ethnicity with gender affects professional development in the area of leadership and the long term career trajectory of an individual. Her other research interests are focused on syntheses of low dimensions materials and the characterization and modeling of their material properties.

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Gregory V Larnell University of Illinois at Chicago

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Dr. Gregory Larnell specializes in the study of mathematics education as a curricular field, as an institutional-policy enterprise, and as a site for experiencing learning and teaching. He has drawn on theoretical ideas from multiple fields toward critically examining the role of standards in school mathematics; Black learners' experiences in non-credit remedial mathematics courses; teaching and learning mathematics for social justice; identities, stereotypes, and mathematics-learning experiences; urban mathematics education; and the use of critical race theory in mathematics education research. He is currently developing projects on Black family mathematics socialization, mathematics and citizenship, STEM-mentoring experiences, and the question of equity in mathematics education. His scholarship has been published in several journals and edited volumes; find and download his work here.

Dr. Larnell develops and teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in the College of Education across curricular and degree programs (including in the general education program): Introduction to Urban Education; STEM, Education, and Society; Teaching and Learning Elementary Mathematics in the Urban Classroom; Research on the Learning of Mathematics; Research on the Mathematics Teachers and Teaching; and Curriculum and Teaching. He also serves in multiple service capacities locally, institutionally, nationally, and internationally—including faculty mentoring programs; community organizations; ad-hoc reviewing for the National Science Foundation, Journal for Research in Mathematics Education, American Educational Research Journal, The Urban Review (among others); and an invited member of the National Council for Teachers of Mathematics Research Committee and the American Educational Research Journal editorial board.

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Work in Progress IGE: Increasing Academic Success for Underrepresented Minority PhD Graduate STEM Students Through Self-Advocacy Education Carmen M. Lilley and Gregory Larnell, University of Illinois at Chicago Many underrepresented Minority (URM) graduate students, here defined as Women, Latinx and Black/African American students, in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) experience climates of intimidation throughout higher education institutions in the form of daily microaggressions and expectations of assimilation (defined as cultural conformation vs. social integration). Although the effects of chronic external stressors on increased mental health disorders and decreased physiological health is well known 1-3, evidence-based practices of support systems specifically for URM graduate students to reduce the effects of climates of intimidation are not common. Indeed, researchers have found that underrepresented minority (URM) students “would benefit if colleges and universities attempted to deconstruct climates of intimidation 4” and it has also been shown that teaching underrepresented minority students empowerment skills can improve academic success 5. As such, we present the initial work-in-progress review for a self-advocacy program for URM PhD graduate students in STEM that empowers, creates self-awareness, and educates on social justice. Self-advocacy is rooted in the theory of self-determination 6, 7. Self-determination theory posits that it is a person’s “inherent growth tendencies and innate psychological needs that are the basis for their self-motivation and personality integration, as well as for the conditions that foster those positive processes 7”. Research in self-determination has identified how “antagonistic” social environments undermine a person’s self-motivation, social functioning, and health/well-being. A comprehensive review of evidence-based practices for teaching self-advocacy within the learning disability (LD) communities found that there are three critical factors that, when combined result in increased academic success: empowerment (having control over decisions and life events), strong self-awareness (knowing what is right for oneself and setting goals based on this criteria), and social justice (knowing how to identify and challenge negative social climates and systems of oppression) 8. The same comprehensive review of evidence-based practice on teaching students with LD on self-advocacy found that LD student’s retention increased during critical transitions to post-secondary education or that they had increased participation in STEM disciplines, and also increased academic success. Within the education community, minority students that are trained in self-advocacy will have “strong self-worth and self-efficacy” and feel “empowered to challenge discriminatory social, economic, and political policies 9.” As a result, students will be retained through critical transitions and have increased academic success. As can be seen, teaching self-advocacy is a means to empower students that results in improved academic success and health and well-being 7. Within higher education, the LD community has implemented into practice teaching strategies and programs that develop self-advocacy skills. Students with LD that are taught self-advocacy skills have increased academic success in college and increase participation in STEM disciplines 6, 10-12. A comprehensive review of evidence-based practices for teaching self-advocacy 13 for communities of students with learning disabilities found that programs that develop skills in empowerment (Communication and Leadership), self-awareness (Knowledge of Self), and social justice (Knowledge of Rights), when combined, result in increased or improved self-advocacy skills in students. Based on these evidence-based practices, the central research question for this project is: Does teaching the three factors strategy for self-advocacy result in increased academic success, improved feelings of agency, and increased self-authenticity for URM STEM PhD graduate students? We aim to present the initial findings of the program as it was implemented in year one and discuss some of the effects that the pandemic had on programming and student participation.

1. Stansfeld, S.; Candy, B., Psychosocial work environment and mental health--a meta-analytic review. 2006. 2. Smith, E. M., Ethnic minorities: Life stress, social support, and mental health issues. The Counseling Psychologist 1985, 13 (4), 537-579. 3. Frost, D. M.; Lehavot, K.; Meyer, I. H., Minority stress and physical health among sexual minority individuals. Journal of behavioral medicine 2015, 38 (1), 1-8. 4. Palmer, R. T.; Maramba, D. C.; Dancy, T. E., A Qualitative Investigation of Factors Promoting the Retention and Persistence of Students of Color in STEM. The Journal of Negro Education 2011, 80 (4), 491-504. 5. Dowden, A. R., Implementing Self-Advocacy Training Within a Brief Psychoeducational Group to Improve the Academic Motivation of Black Adolescents. The Journal for Specialists in Group Work 2009, 34 (2), 118-136. 6. Deci, E. L.; Vallerand, R. J.; Pelletier, L. G.; Ryan, R. M., Motivation and education: The self-determination perspective. Educational psychologist 1991, 26 (3-4), 325-346. 7. Ryan, R. M.; Deci, E. L., Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and well-being. American psychologist 2000, 55 (1), 68. 8. Test, D. W.; Fowler, C.; Kohler, P.; Kortering, L., Evidence-based practices and predictors in secondary transition: What we know and what we still need to know. Charlotte, NC: National Secondary Transition Technical Assistance Center 2010. 9. Astramovich, R. L.; Harris, K. R., Promoting self‐advocacy among minority students in school counseling. Journal of Counseling & Development 2007, 85 (3), 269-276. 10. Skinner, M. E., Promoting self-advocacy among college students with learning disabilities. Intervention in School and Clinic 1998, 33 (5), 278-283. 11. Rumrill Jr, P. D., Effects of a social competence training program on accommodation request activity, situational self-efficacy, and Americans with disabilities act knowledge among employed people with visual impairments and blindness. Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation 1999, 12 (1), 25-31. 12. Burgstahler, S.; Chang, C., Promising interventions for promoting STEM fields to students who have disabilities. Review of disability studies: An international journal 2009, 5 (2), 29-47. 13. Roberts, E. L.; Ju, S.; Zhang, D., Review of practices that promote self-advocacy for students with disabilities. Journal of Disability Policy Studies 2016, 26 (4), 209-220.

Lilley, C. M., & Larnell, G. V. (2022, February), Increasing Academic Success for Underrepresented Minority PhD Graduate STEM Students Through Self-Advocacy Education Paper presented at 2022 CoNECD (Collaborative Network for Engineering & Computing Diversity) , New Orleans, Louisiana.

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