ASIAN AMERICAN WOMEN IN SCIENCE, ENGINEERING, AND MATHEMATICS: BACKGROUND CONTEXTUAL AND COLLEGE ENVIRONMENT INFLUENCES ON SELF-EFFICACY AND ACADEMIC ACHIEVEMENT

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2005-12-05

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The purpose of this research study was to examine, for undergraduate women of various Asian American ethnic backgrounds, the influence of background contextual and college environment factors on their sense of academic self-efficacy and achievement in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) majors. Social cognitive career theory and its critiques provided a theoretical foundation for relationships from past performance, socioeconomic status, acculturation, and college environment variables (compositional diversity, racial climate, gendered climate, academic peer support), to academic self-efficacy and achievement.

Data were collected through an online survey. Instrumentation included the scales of Language, Identity, and Behavioral Acculturation; Gender Discrimination; Faculty and Classroom Behavior; Interactions with Peers; and Academic Milestones Self-efficacy. The participants were 228 Asian American undergraduate women in STEM at a large public, doctoral research extensive university on the east coast; the response rate was 51%. In three MANOVAs for nine social cognitive career variables, four ethnic groups (East, South, Southeast, and Multi-ethnic Asian American) significantly differed only on socioeconomic status. In path analysis, the initial model was not a good fit and was rejected. The model was respecified through statistical and theoretical evaluation, tested in exploratory analysis, and considered a good fit. The respecified model explained 36% of semester GPA (achievement) and 28% of academic self-efficacy.

The academic achievement of Asian American women in STEM was related to past performance, background contextual factors, academic self-efficacy, academic peer support, and gendered climate. The strongest direct influence on achievement was academic self-efficacy followed by past performance. The total effect of Asian acculturation on achievement was negative and the total effect of American acculturation on achievement was not significant; academic self-efficacy mediated these complex relationships. The total effects of racial and gendered compositional diversity and racial climate on both academic self-efficacy and achievement were not significant. Students in majors with more female peers reported less academic peer support.

In this study, when culturally specific variables embellished social cognitive career theory, the theory exhibited cultural validity for undergraduate Asian American women in STEM. The nature of the relationships among culturally specific variables and college environment variables, however, requires further study.

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