Date of Conferral





Human Services


Tracy Jackson


The United States has invested millions of dollars in STEM program initiatives; however, African Americans in STEM career fields are underrepresented. The purpose of this qualitative hermeneutic phenomenological study aimed to explore the lived experiences of African-American first-year college students from rural communities in a STEM program and whether their experiences influenced their decision to pursue a STEM major in college. Spencer’s phenomenological variant of ecological systems theory (PVEST) was used to frame the study. Data were collected from semistructured interviews with eight African American first-year college students from rural communities. Coding analysis involved identifying meaning units and situated narratives to identify seven themes: experiential learning projects, sources of support, early exposure, networking opportunities, lack of diversity, self-perception, and disconnect between college expectations and student preparedness. Findings revealed that although students found STEM programs valuable and engaging, they lacked information about college expectations and diversity. PVEST highlighted the importance of understanding people’s processes when they perceive the world. This study provides implications for stakeholders to consider the experiences of African American students when designing pipeline STEM programs that address the underrepresentation of African Americans in STEM career fields.