High-ability black college students face the often
daunting task of blending their academic interest and
racial affiliation into their sense of self. This chapter
focuses on the challenges in integrating these factors and
the influence of interactions with peers and with faculty.
Identity Development of High-Ability
The study of black students and their academic, social, and psychological experiences in the academy has increased significantly in the past four decades. As black students gained access to predominantly white institutions in the United States, their presence underscored significant differences and needs relative to white students. Research on the academic and social factors affecting black students (Allen, 1981; Fleming, 1984; Nettles, Theony, and Gosman; 1986; Pascarella and Terenzini, 1991; Sedlacek, 1987) provided knowledge that was used to enhance students’ development and to improve learning environments in and outside of the classroom.
Studying smaller and distinct populations of students can provide tremendous insight into how students learn and how to create environments to improve their intellectual development. As we aspire to find ways to improve teaching practices and learning outcomes for all students, we must understand the various ways that students are shaped by their experiences prior to and during the college years. As we understand more of the influences that shape their lives, we begin to understand how to create intersections in our teaching and in the learning process that allow students to become fully engaged in learning. My observations in this chapter are informed by extensive interviews conducted with twelve high-achieving black students who were enrolled from 1990 to 1994 in a merit-based scholarship program for students in math, science, and engineering (the Meyerhoff Scholars at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, UMBC). Established in 1989, the Meyerhoff program is a nationally recognized program serving high-achieving African Americans in math and science. To become a Meyerhoff, students must maintain a B average or better and have