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"I’ve felt out of place sometimes in STEM but my cultural roots say otherwise:” Latina college students’ identity conundrums and opportunities in a science research internship

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Abstract

In this study, we explored (a) how Latina undergraduate students negotiated their multiple identities while participating in a research internship designed to create spaces that counter master narratives, and the forms of cultural wealth that were implicated in these identity negotiations, and (b) ways in which the various elements of the research internship impacted the student’s identity negotiations. The theoretical framing brought together conceptions of identity and identity construction, the marginalization of Latin*s in science and science education and the master narratives shaping identity intersectionalities, and the creation of counter narratives that make use of multiple forms of community cultural wealth. Using phenomenology, we analyzed four Latina interns’ work artifacts generated in various activities within each element of the research internship that aimed to provide Latin* students with opportunities to explore and build on their cultural assets while studying the monarch butterfly population in relation to milkweed restoration and utilization. We found that the research interns referred to different forms of cultural wealth as they grappled with their multiple identities and their intersectionalities, and the various science research internship elements offered different pathways for their grappling. The findings point to (a) structures at the macro- and micro-levels, and enduring master narratives and distal identities, that influence proximal identities and are implicated in identity conundrums; (b) the role of cultural wealth in creating productive spaces and places of science engagement and counter narratives; and (c) the explicitness needed in educational activities so that science students may engage with the intersectionalities of their multiple identities.

Resumen

En este estudio, exploramos (a) cómo las estudiantes latinas de licenciatura negociaron sus identidades múltiples mientras participaban en una pasantía de investigación diseñado para crear espacios que contrarrestan narrativas maestras y las formas de riqueza cultural que fueron implicadas en estas negociaciones de identidad, y (b) las maneras en que los varios elementos de la pasantía de investigación impactaron las negociaciones de identidad de las estudiantes. El marco teórico reunió concepciones de identidad y construcción de la identidad, la marginalización de los latinos en ciencias y educación de ciencias y las narrativas maestras formando identidades que dan forma a las interseccionalidades de la identidad, y la creación de contra narrativas que hacen uso de múltiples formas de riqueza cultural comunitaria. Utilizando la fenomenología, analizamos los artefactos de trabajo de cuatro latinas internas generados en varias actividades dentro de cada elemento de la pasantía de investigación dirigido a proveer a estudiantes latín*s oportunidades para explorar y construir sus bienes culturales mientras estudiaban la población de la mariposa monarca en relación con la restauración del algodoncillo y su utilización. Encontramos que las internas de investigación refirieron diferentes formas de riqueza cultural mientras luchaban con sus identidades múltiples y sus interseccionalidades, y los varios elementos de las pasantías de investigación científica ofrecieron diferentes caminos para su aferramiento. Los hallazgos apuntan a (a) las estructuras a nivel macro y micro, y a las narrativas maestras duraderas y a las identidades distales, que influyen las identidades proximales y están implicadas en acertijos de identidad; (b) el papel de la riqueza cultural en la creación de espacios y lugares productivos para compromiso científico y contra narrativas; y (c) la explicitación necesaria en las actividades educacionales para que los estudiantes de ciencias se comprometan con las interseccionalidades de identidades múltiples.

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Acknowledgements

This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. IUSE-1928673. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

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S.B.S. and M.V. engaged with all aspects of the study and the manuscript that presents it. M.A. and D.B. engaged with all aspects of the development and implementation work associated with the research internship. All authors reviewed the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Stephanie Batres Spezza.

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Batres Spezza, S., Varelas, M., Ashley, M.V. et al. "I’ve felt out of place sometimes in STEM but my cultural roots say otherwise:” Latina college students’ identity conundrums and opportunities in a science research internship. Cult Stud of Sci Educ 18, 1223–1253 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11422-023-10198-9

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