Asee peer logo

WIP: Effective Identity-Safety Cues for Assuaging Social Identity Threat of Young Black Girls in STEM

Download Paper |


2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual On line

Publication Date

June 22, 2020

Start Date

June 22, 2020

End Date

June 26, 2021

Conference Session

Pre-college Engineering Education Division Technical Session 6

Tagged Division

Pre-College Engineering Education

Tagged Topic


Page Count




Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors


Janille A. Smith-Colin Southern Methodist University Orcid 16x16

visit author page

Janille Smith-Colin is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and a Fellow of Caruth Institute for Engineering Education at Southern Methodist University (SMU). She also leads the Infrastructure Projects and Organizations Research Group at SMU, whose mission is to advance sustainability and resilience goals through infrastructure systems research and education focused on developing methods and tools for engineering projects and organizations. Dr. Smith-Colin received her Ph.D. in Civil and Environmental Engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology, where she simultaneously earned a Certificate in Higher Education Teaching and Learning. Her engineering education research interests include the formation of engineering identity in underrepresented girls and women, social threats to this identity, and the development of professional skills and systems thinking amongst civil engineers. Dr. Smith-Colin was a 2019 American Society of Civil Engineering (ASCE) ExCEED Teaching Fellow.

visit author page


Jeanna Wieselmann Southern Methodist University Orcid 16x16

visit author page

Dr. Jeanna R. Wieselmann is a Research Assistant Professor at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, TX. Her research focuses on gender equity in STEM and maintaining elementary girls' interest in STEM through both in-school and out-of-school experiences. Dr. Wieselmann's research has explored student participation patterns in small group STEM activities. She is interested in STEM schools, integrated STEM curriculum development, and teacher professional development to support gender-equitable teaching practices.

visit author page

Download Paper |


Fear about devaluation in STEM environments based on race and gender has been found to heighten social identity threat concerns amongst Black women. Social identity threat has been found to lower sense of belonging, increase feelings of exclusion and isolation, and lead to disengagement from a domain or area of study. In addition, Steinke (2017) observed that a science or STEM identity is important for understanding a wide range of STEM-related outcomes including engagement, interest, learning, motivation, persistence, and commitment. Identity-safety cues, including exemplars (i.e., a counterstereotypical example), role models (i.e., someone who a person feels similar to and would like to be like), and positive contextual factors (i.e., identity-safe environments), have been found to assuage social identity threat. The goal of this research is to engage an intersectionality lens to examine the effectiveness of identify-safety cues for assuaging social identity threat amongst young Black girls enrolled in a STEAM program for underrepresented girls.

Previous research on social identity threat in STEM has investigated academic outcomes and experiences of black undergraduate students and professional women. Findings suggest that exposure to a role model or exemplar sharing both a racial and gender identity (i.e., a Black woman scientist) assuages social identity threat concerns. However, previous research has been unclear about whether Black girls most identify with a successful scientist who shares their gender, their identity, or both. Other research has suggested that education context is an important moderating effect with respect to adolescents and STEM identity. Support provided in an identity-safe environment has been found to promote trust and belonging, while an identity-lens has been found to offer the most comprehensive view of STEM persistence and belonging.

Drawing on work done by Casad et al. (2017) to investigate stereotype threat among young girls, and Johnson et al. (2019) to explore identity-safety cues among Black women, fifty girls enrolled in a STEAM academy are being studied in a semester-long longitudinal study. The objectives of this research are the following: (A) examine factors related to young Black girls’ perceptions of role models as providing effective identity-safety cues; and (B) examine differences in STEM identity amongst middle school and high school girls engaged in an identity-safe environment. Objective A examines ingroup differences (i.e., gender or race) impacting the effectiveness of role models and exemplars, while Objective B investigates the role of context (i.e., an identity-safe environment) in moderating the effects of stereotype threat as girls develop a STEM identity. To assess the effectiveness of identity-safety cues, the following outcomes will be investigated: negative attitudes towards the domain, disengagement from the domain, and intention to pursue education and careers in the domain. Work-in-progress reporting will present preliminary findings related to Objective B collected using survey instruments on the development of STEM identity in girls enrolled in an identity-safe environment. Future work will use interviews with STEAM participants to capture perceptions of “actual contact” with exemplars and role models, and report survey findings capturing attitude, disengagement, and intent to pursue careers.

Smith-Colin, J. A., & Wieselmann, J. (2020, June), WIP: Effective Identity-Safety Cues for Assuaging Social Identity Threat of Young Black Girls in STEM Paper presented at 2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual On line . 10.18260/1-2--35535

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2020 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015