STEM(ming) up from niños to científicos
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The simultaneous phenomena of a shortage in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) labor force coupled with the growing Latino population in the U.S. dictates a need for higher education institutions to ensure the success of Latino students in the STEM disciplines. Current trends indicate that Latino males are interested in pursuing a STEM major, but are attaining STEM degrees at low rates. Furthermore, prior research has shown that over half of all STEM degree pursuers change majors within the first two years and that the first few weeks of college are critical for Latino students. As such, this dissertation used a qualitative, phenomenological approach to examine the first-semester lived experience of Latino males in the STEM disciplines using a science identity framework. Overall, this study had five major findings. First, the findings from this study challenged the existing science identity framework by emphasizing competence as opposed to recognition. Second, participants considered the importance of having a supportive scientific community within their first semester. At the same time, they also highlighted the competitiveness and exclusivity of the scientific community as a major factor that drew them into pursuing a STEM major. Third, the high-achieving participants in this study stressed the importance of being innovative, thinking out of the box, and connecting patterns in approaching their subject areas. Fourth, students in this study had to negotiate their science identities with other parts of their identities, such as their racial identities, gender identities, religious identities, creative identities, and musical identities. Finally, participants in this study who were enrolled in a critical thinking seminar developed a thorough understanding about science within a broader context, and gained knowledge about how the scientific community interacts with other industries, such as business, law, and politics. Given these findings, this study expanded, challenged, and added to the existing literature about Latino men in the STEM disciplines.