‘A less traveled road’: New study from UW-Madison’s Burt, Wei LAB team offers path to increasing number of Black men in STEM

By Laurel White

In 2020, less than one percent of graduate-level engineering degrees were awarded to Black men, according to statistics from the Council of Graduate Schools and the American Society for Engineering Education

Brian Burt

A new study from School of Education faculty member Brian Burt and his team at Wisconsin’s Equity and Inclusion Laboratory (Wei LAB) illuminates some factors that influence Black men to pursue higher education in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). 

“Aspiring to a career in engineering can be daunting for Black males and a less traveled road they are expected to pave themselves,” Burt and his co-authors wrote in the study, which was published this week in the Journal of Women and Minorities in Science and Engineering.

Burt is an associate professor in the School of Education’s Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis and director and chief research scientist with the Wei LAB. He co-authored the study with School of Education doctoral students Blayne Stone Jr., Tiaira Porter, and Joshua Wallace. 

The researchers performed a retrospective analysis of the aspirations of 50 Black men interested in pursuing advanced STEM degrees. They found four themes were most influential in inspiring Black men to pursue advanced degrees in STEM:

  • Black male students received messages implying that a bachelor’s degree was insufficient. 
  • Earning a graduate degree in engineering was regarded as a sign of community influence and respect.
  • Students’ professorial career goals necessitated an advanced degree.
  • Mothers functioned as support systems and role models for earning an advanced degree. 
Wallace, Stone, Porter

The researchers hope their work will empower stakeholders, including administrators, faculty, advisors, family members, and peers, to commit to supporting Black men who pursue advanced degrees in STEM fields. 

“True commitments to increasing their participation would include engaging and supporting them at the point where their aspirational interest begins,” the researchers wrote. “Then, committed stakeholders should leverage and nurture Black males’ aspirational interests until passage down the road less traveled becomes the journey fulfilled.”

The study is available online here

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