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Making a Difference through Programmatic Support: What Matters for STEM Doctoral Students

by Pamela Petrease Felder, Walter P. Parrish, III, Joan Nicole Collier & Reginald Blockett - January 05, 2016

This work addresses important models of programmatic support specific to the STEM doctoral experience.

Much of what doctoral students will experience in their doctoral programs will come from the programmatic efforts of dedicated faculty and administrators who have invested countless resources, time, and energy in facilitating positive student learning outcomes and a smooth transition into the workforce. As much as these resources are available to support students, they are also essential to the reputation and branding of institutions. As such, programmatic support, including the processes, practices, and policies supporting doctoral education, is worth giving considerable attention to when thinking about the doctoral student experience and the growth and development of graduate schools. When considering the experiences of historically marginalized students, programmatic efforts can make a strong difference in either the support or hindrance of progress towards their rates of doctoral degree completion.

An overview of statistics demonstrates the significance of doctoral student completion in the U.S. The Survey of Earned Doctorates (National Science Foundation, 2015) reports that there were 52,760 doctoral recipients in 2013. This survey also notes that 20,850 doctoral recipients are from traditionally marginalized backgrounds or reported they were of multiple or other races. Out of the approximately 39,000 doctoral recipients in engineering or the life, physical, or social sciences (representing some STEM fields), the number of doctoral recipients from marginalized backgrounds lags significantly behind White students. When survey data are disaggregated by race and discipline, Black or African American degree recipients make up less than 3% (841) of all STEM doctorates (30,558) and American Indian or Alaska Native degree recipients compose a marginal portion of less than 1%.

The National Science Foundation (2013) also describes the employment sectors in which doctoral recipients work. In 2013, over half of all recipients were committed to academia, except Asians, who were almost evenly split between the business (41%) and academic sectors (42%). Out of all races, Blacks were the most likely of their identity group to work in the government sector at roughly 12%. It is important that racially underrepresented populations see themselves in, and are provided access to, the STEM pipeline. However, the racial profile of a person in a STEM-related doctoral degree program or working in STEM does not currently depict this vision.


Our nation’s capacity to develop and sustain knowledge and skill-driven industries is fundamental to competing in global markets that are increasingly becoming more technologically advanced. These markets will consume future goods and services and will also be more racially and culturally diverse. Unfortunately, very little is changing in faculty diversity among STEM disciplines and the kind of essential leadership necessary to support emerging scholarship is absent. This highlights a grave systemic reality that asks a challenging question: what have these programs planned to do to increase faculty diversity?



Within doctoral education scholarship, there are several areas where the connection of theory, research, and practice is vital to strengthening programmatic efforts to support degree attainment for historically marginalized students. For instance, research on doctoral student socialization addresses the belief systems students bring to their doctoral programs. It is important to understand how these belief systems motivate students to attain knowledge, interact with their environments, build research agendas, and transition into their careers. Faculty and administrators responsible for facilitating programmatic efforts should consider ways to formally incorporate their awareness of these belief systems through planning and evaluation.

Understanding the role of career pathways in creating and facilitating programs focused on doctoral student success is vital to emerging scholars. While traditional advisement practices have focused on discipline-specific career opportunities, incorporating discussions about the career potential for students’ interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary interests can enhance the ways these learners embrace knowledge attainment, collaboration, and the development of their research agendas. This process can expand students’ ideas about the reach of their research interests.

Another vital area in creating and maintaining supportive programmatic efforts is the role of psychosocial support and mentorship. It is important for faculty and administrators to consider when, where, and how this support exists (formally and informally) and how shifts in the academic environment affect this process for students who have been historically marginalized.

Yosso (2005) proposes a model of community cultural wealth that privileges the lived and gained experiences through six forms of capital. Aspirational capital refers to the ability to maintain hopes and dreams for the future, even in the face of real and perceived barriers. This is where programmatic efforts can be actualized; by committing to support doctoral student success through the identification and cultivation of scholarly talents within the community. Linguistic capital includes the intellectual and social skills attained through communication experiences in more than one language and/or style. This includes programmatic efforts that support writing opportunities through a series of initiatives focusing on the skills needed to develop independent and collaborative research projects.

Yosso’s discussion of familial capital refers to cultural knowledge nurtured among familial ties (or kin) that carry a sense of community history, memory and cultural intuition. Telling stories about personal experiences in pursuing doctoral degrees and transitioning into career pathways are nuanced, culturally focused, reflective, and discipline specific. Social capital can be understood as networks of people and community resources. Programmatic efforts grow their reach through networking and recruitment of emerging scholars interested in pursuing doctoral education and an active social media presence.

Emerging scholars build navigational capital through these networks where the support of doctoral student socialization involves learning to maneuver through social institutions and academic barriers. Resistant capital builds through the development of knowledge and skills fostered through oppositional behavior that challenges inequality and results in a thriving programmatic focus.

By incorporating programmatic support efforts within STEM disciplines similar to those suggested by Yosso’s model of community cultural wealth, this will ideally promote diversity among historically marginalized students, support their completion of doctoral degree requirements, and increase their representation in the academy.


National Science Foundation, National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics (2015). Doctorate Recipients from U.S. Universities: 2014. Special Report NSF 16-300. Arlington, VA: National Science Foundation. Retrieved from www.nsf.gov/statistics/2016/nsf16300


Survey of Earned Doctorates (2014). Survey of Earned Doctorates 2014. Retrieved from http://www.sedsurvey.org/Pages/home.aspx

Yosso, T. J. (2005). Whose culture has capital? A critical race theory discussion of

community cultural wealth. Race Ethnicity and Education, 8(1), 69-91.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: January 05, 2016
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 18984, Date Accessed: 6/12/2021 7:28:22 AM

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About the Author
  • Pamela Felder
    University of Maryland Eastern Shore
    E-mail Author
    PAMELA PETREASE FELDER is an Associate Professor of the Organizational Leadership Ph.D. program in the Department of Social Sciences at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore.
  • Walter Parrish, III
    University of Wisconsin—Madison
    E-mail Author
    WALTER P. PARRISH, III is an Educational Policy and Policy Analysis PhD student at the University of Wisconsin—Madison.
  • Joan Collier
    University of Georgia
    E-mail Author
    JOAN NICOLE COLLIER is a PhD student in higher education at the University of Georgia.
  • Reginald Blockett
    Indiana University
    E-mail Author
    REGINALD BLOCKETT is a Ph.D. student in the Higher Education and Student Affairs program in the School of Education at Indiana University.
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