Academic journal article Negro Educational Review

African American Students' Career Considerations and Reasons for Enrolling in Advanced Science Courses

Academic journal article Negro Educational Review

African American Students' Career Considerations and Reasons for Enrolling in Advanced Science Courses

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT: Extant literature on the underrepresentation of African Americans in science-related careers has identified numerous factors that correlate with students' career considerations. While these correlations provide substantial insight, the tendency to infer cause is problematic. This position paper draws on data from an exploratory study to illustrate that alternative interpretations are probable and to advocate the need for a deeper understanding of the relationship between students' career considerations and known correlates. Data were collected from 87 African American, high school juniors and seniors. These data identify the careers they consider pursuing, their reasons for enrolling in advanced science courses and the influence of the advanced science course on their consideration of science-related careers. Findings suggest that African American students' consideration of science-related careers may precede enrollment in advanced science courses.

The underrepresentation of African Americans in science and science-related careers has been a resilient problem. Reports show that since 1977 African Americans have comprised fewer than 2% of practicing Ph.D.-holding scientists (National Science Board, 2000). Even with modest gains in recent years the percentage of African Americans in science careers remains far below the percentage of African Americans in the U.S. population. Researchers studying this phenomenon have identified numerous factors, which correlate with students' career considerations. Among these it has been found that the number of mathematics and science courses taken (Griffin, 1990; Maple & Stage, 1991; Reyes & Stanic, 1985; Thomas, 1984), the reported influence of mathematics or science teachers (Griffin, 1990), reported participation in extra-curricular science activities (Gilleylen, 1993), reported interest in science projects as children (Thomas, 1984), and students' self-confidence in their ability to do mathematics or science (Griffin, 1990; O'Brien, Post, Stewart, & Smith, 1991) all correlate positively with science-related academic majors.

In a review of literature on African American underrepresentation Lewis (2003) points out that these and similar findings grow out of a body of research that is highly uniform in both its theoretical and methodological approach. In brief, the research tends to assume deficiencies in the life history of African American students; using survey samples of college students to identify the deficiencies that correlate with race and/or choice of major; and interpret those deficiencies as causal factors affecting career choice. While the uniformity of current research may only be partly responsible, a central shortcoming of underrepresentation literature is the oversimplified explanations put forth to account for African American students' career attainment.

In this position paper we focus on one of the many factors known to correlate with students' career considerations: namely the number of mathematics and science courses taken in high school. Our purpose is first, to illustrate that alternative interpretations of correlational data are not only possible but are probable; and second, to encourage scholars studying African American underrepresentation to seek greater depth of understanding of the relationship between students' career considerations and associated factors. To realize this purpose we begin by examining extant literature to identify the general explanation put forth to account for the relationship between the number of high school mathematics and science courses taken and African American students' career considerations. We then present data from an exploratory study of African American students' decisions to enroll in advanced mathematics and science courses. These data, which were collected to provide insight into the relationship between advanced science courses and career attainment, tend to challenge prevailing interpretations of the course quantity/career consideration correlation. …

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