“Having the right person, in the right place, at the right time,
is what makes a difference”:
Pioneering individuals in STEM and institutional agents
May 1st, 2013
San Francisco, CA
Josephine Gasiewski, Sylvia Hurtado
Tanya Figueroa, Gina Garcia
UCLA, Higher Education Research Institute
U.S. needs to produce roughly 1 million more
STEM professionals
Many efforts devoted to increasing STEM
retention in college
Few studies look at retention efforts from the
perspective of those implementing them
Much can be learned from the professionals
who have dedicated careers to diversifying
STEM and to tearing down barriers
Understand how “pioneers” have:
Been helped by others in their educational
Acted in ways that help URM students achieve
Helped students become agents of change
Overcome barriers
Who qualifies as a “pioneer”?
Purposeful sampling, sampling criteria:
• longevity and success in STEM
• national recognition
• historical underrepresentation in their field
• evidence of a long-term commitment to diversifying
Identified through:
• professional organizations
• lists of awardees receiving national recognition for their
diversity efforts
• National Institutes of Health funded programs focused on
improving minority access to research careers
• snowball sampling
32 semi-structured, in-depth interviews:
• 9 biomedical/behavioral sciences, 12 physical
sciences/engineering, & 11 program administrators.
• 50% women
• 9 Black, 14 Latina/o, 3 American Indian, 4 White, 1 Biracial,
and 1 African
 open coding for emergent themes
 axial coding
 inter-coder reliability
 development of coding architecture in NVivo9
 coding to nodes
Theoretical Foundation
Social capital framework proposed by Stanton
Salazar (2011)
• notion of institutional agents and how they
leverage their social capital to combat the
structural challenges faced by students of color
Mertens’ transformative paradigm (2005)
• emphasizes human rights and social justice,
acknowledges social power and privilege, and
advocates for the use of culturally appropriate
research methods aimed at action and social
How did past agents help pioneers?
This person who noticed that I could do it,
that had encouraged me; he encouraged me
into the area of physics because he was a
physicist...He was still pushin' and supporting
me…. There's nothing I can say that would do
him justice except that he was brilliant… He
saw something of that in me and wanted to
transfer it.
How did past agents help pioneers?
In graduate school I had one or two faculty
whom I could go to with whatever problem I
had, I could go talk to them about. I could go
to my teachers…at every level in my career,
that is—I had a teacher, at least one,
sometimes two or three that I felt
comfortable enough with to go and talk to
about stuff other than my class work.
How did pioneers act as agents?
The question I guess I would always have is who helps
move the student from one person to the next
person to the next person to the next person? If you
go back far enough among African American
scientists, you will find that they were sent to a
graduate program by their undergraduate person...
[Students] were sent to that other person or that
program because of the confidence that their
undergraduate faculty member had that that
graduate person was not going to mess over that
student and was really going to nurture them and
give them what they needed and that they were not
going to underestimate that capacity.
How did pioneers act as agents?
What can you do to structure… opportunities
so that you can broaden the net and include
more people?...Telling the student that you
think has talent, and say, “Look, here’s this
opportunity, why don’t you apply and show
me your application and I can help you reach
How do pioneers create future agents?
We want to produce white students
who've had a chance to think about issues
of under-representation. How many
professors have thought about it when
they were in undergrad school? It's rare.
How many doctors have had a chance to
think about it? My students—how many of
my are now are in faculty positions leading
diversity efforts? A lot, all over. You know?
How do pioneers create future agents?
We ran this program where we have study sessions for the
students…It was amazing to go into that room—just walk in
some evenings and see how much peer counseling and
peer mentoring was going on in the room. They were
teaching each other. Not only did we create that kind of
synergy among students, but we also created leaders.
They didn't even know was happening to them. They did
not even understand what was happening to them. That
supportive environment that we gave them to allow them
to do that—they created their leadership themselves.
Their own leadership skills and it wasn't anything that I did.
It was what—all I did was create the environment for it
to happen.
How did pioneers overcome barriers?
First off, when I was younger, I didn’t understand.
The successful scientist has some attributes that I
did not have. One is the ability to talk about
yourself and essentially to brag, what I would call
bragging about your abilities. I have learned to do
that. Another trait is the ability to defend yourself
and to be fairly aggressive. I have learned to do
that. Those were not things I was comfortable
with. To be recognized as a successful scientist in
a male-dominated culture and physics is still
heavily male dominated, I had to learn how to
behave in a different way.
How did pioneers overcome barriers?
I said, well okay, maybe I do have something to
contribute here, and it’s by doing it and by having
some success. Success never comes all at once,
you build up to it and it’s incremental, having a
whole bunch of little successes. Also, I think
learning from the non-successes, that helped a
lot, too. I think we’re always aware of the
messages that we’re getting from the larger
society that minority folks can’t do, but then
there’s also something that, I think, that we push
back. They say, what are you talking about? Of
course we can.
Pioneers cared about students’ and
empowered them with information
• Inserted selves in institutional/national
positions in order to:
• Challenge status quo
• Broaden access to opportunity structure
• Change definition of who was capable of doing STEM
Remind us that we must focus on developing
talent rather than weeding out students
• Creating social change was not without risk
Next Steps?
More change is needed and possible!
We must involve more people at all
institutional levels
Contact Information
Sylvia Hurtado
Kevin Eagan
Mitchell Chang
Postdoctoral Scholar:
Josephine Gasiewski
Administrative S taff:
Dominique Harrison
Graduate Research Assistants:
Tanya Figueroa Juan Garibay
Gina Garcia
Bryce Hughes
Papers and reports are available for download from project website:
Project e-mail: [email protected]
This study was made possible by the support of the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, NIH Grant
Numbers 1 R01 GMO71968-01 and R01 GMO71968-05, the National Science Foundation, NSF Grant Number
0757076, and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 through the National Institute of General
Medical Sciences, NIH Grant 1RC1GM090776-01. This independent research and the views expressed here
do not indicate endorsement by the sponsors.

Pioneering individuals in STEM and institutional agents.