Exclusivity through Challenge: Perceptions of Difficulty in Mathematics-Intensive STEM Fields at the Intersection of Race/Ethnicity and Gender
Samantha Nix

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Dissertation Fellowship

Award Year



Florida State University

Primary Discipline

This dissertation aims to develop a framework for how societal beliefs about challenge in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) influence students’ subsequent decisions to major, complete degrees, and intent to pursue careers in those domains. Recent evidence suggests beliefs that mathematics-intensive subjects like physics, engineering, mathematics, and computer sciences (PEMC) (Nix, Perez-Felkner, & Thomas, 2015; Perez-Felkner, McDonald, Schneider, & Grogan, 2012) are extremely difficult and are appropriate only for those possessing innate gifts (Dweck, 2008; Leslie, Cimpian, Meyer, & Freeland, 2015). Research additionally points to differences in ability beliefs by race/ethnicity and gender (OECD, 2015). However, how these identities affect perceptions of field-specific exclusivity and STEM major/career choice is not yet fully understood. Using nationally representative Education Longitudinal Study: 2002/12 data as well as a qualitative analysis of original interview data, this dissertation will (1) distinguish between students’ general belief in their STEM competence and their perceived ability under challenge in mathematics-intensive fields, (2) demonstrate the specific association between perceived ability under challenge in mathematics-intensive fields and major and career outcomes, (3) identify how students make meaning of their experiences with challenge in mathematics-intensive fields, and (4) describe how the postsecondary experience shapes perceived ability under challenge. Findings will help inform researchers, practitioners, and policymakers of the existence, impact, and developmental process of perceived ability under challenge.
About Samantha Nix
Samantha Nix is a Ph.D. candidate in the Higher Education program at Florida State University. She is interested in understanding college student experiences and major choice through a social psychological lens. Through her dissertation, she is studying field-specific perceptions and its relationship with postsecondary educational outcomes, particularly in mathematics-intensive science fields. Her dissertation research will illuminate the role of college experiences in shaping students’ beliefs about fields of study, and differences in perceived ability by gender and race/ethnicity identity. While at FSU, Samantha has worked as a research assistant under multiple faculty in the Educational Leadership & Policy Studies department, the Center for Postsecondary Success, and at the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory’s Center for Integrating Research and Learning. Her professional experience has included coordinating the FSU Certificate in Institutional Research and FSU’s Women in Mathematics, Science, and Engineering (WIMSE) Living Learning Program. She earned her M.S. in Higher Education at FSU in 2013, and B.A. degrees in English Literature and French at the University of Southern Mississippi in 2009. She has been published in Frontiers in Psychology and Research in Higher Education.

Pin It on Pinterest