A bit of both science and economics: a non-traditional STEM identity narrative

Original Paper


Black males, as one non-dominant population, remain underrepresented and less successful in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Researchers focused on non-dominant populations are advised against generalizations and to examine cultural intersections (i.e. race, ethnicity, gender, and more) and also to explore cases of success, in addition to cases of under-achievement and underrepresentation. This study has focused on one African American male, Randy, who expressed high-achieving STEM career goals in computer science and engineering. Furthermore, recognizing that culture and identity development underlie STEM engagement and persistence, this long-term case study focused on how Randy developed a STEM identity during the course of the study and the implications of that process for his STEM career exploration. Étienne Wenger’s (1999) communities-of-practice (CoP) was employed as a theoretical framework and, in doing so, (1) the informal STEM program in which Randy participated was characterized as a STEM-for-social-justice CoP and (2) Randy participated in ways that consistently utilized an “economics” lens from beyond the boundaries of the CoP. In doing so, Randy functioned as a broker within the CoP and developed a non-traditional STEM identity-in-practice which integrated STEM, “economics”, and community engagement. Randy’s STEM identity-in-practice is discussed in terms of the contextual factors that support scientific identity development (Hazari et al. in J Res Sci Teach 47:978–1003, 2010), the importance of recognizing and supporting the development of holistic and non-traditional STEM identities, especially for diverse populations in STEM, and the implications of this new understanding of Randy’s STEM identity for his long-term STEM career exploration.


Communities-of-practice STEM identity development STEM engagement Black males 



The author thanks Randy for his understanding and willing participation in this research study, as well as advisers, faculty and staff from Boston College. The author also thanks Dr. Flavia Rezende, Dr. Katemari Rosa, and Dr. Michèle Foster for their help in revising earlier drafts of this work. This work was supported, in part, through grants awarded to Dr. Mike Barnett, specifically National Science Foundation Information Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers (ITEST) program (Grants #0525040 and #0833624) and a Hewlett Packard Foundation Teaching with Technology Program (Grant #189660). This work was also supported by funding awarded to the YPAR program from the Peter J. Sharp Foundation and the Lynch School of Education at Boston College. The author, however, acknowledges no conflicts of interest in conducting this study and its publication.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of LouisvilleLouisvilleUSA

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