Bridging Academic, Social, and Psychological Wellbeing to Increase STEM Retention among Black Undergraduate Women
Seanna Leath

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship

Award Year



University of Virginia

Primary Discipline

Educational Psychology
The current investigation builds on secondary data (Healthy Minds Study, 2019), and will involve mixed methodological data collection (annual surveys and in-depth interviews) to understand how individual and institutional factors influence Black undergraduate women’s persistence in STEM at PWIs and HBCUs. The project integrates academic development, social wellbeing, and psychological health to examine Black women’s vulnerability to, or resilience against, institutional marginalization. Studying psychosocial processes, particularly those tied to institutional marginalization, will provide a more comprehensive understanding of how students navigate university contexts. This project will forge new ground in developmental literature by validating a conceptual model of student thriving that reveals how institutional practices support or ostracize Black women, a historically marginalized group in STEM, higher education, and society. The work will reconceptualize how scholars frame the effects of racism, sexism, and classism by demonstrating how those who wield institutional power systematically harm Black women’s STEM persistence. The findings will support a continuum of research to enhance prevention and intervention efforts aimed at building protective institutional structures to foster Black women’s holistic wellbeing.
About Seanna Leath
Seanna C. Leath is an Assistant Professor in the Psychology Department at the University of Virginia; she runs the F.H.I.RE (Fostering Healthy Identities and REsilience) lab. Dr. Leath’s research is situated at the intersection of education, psychology, and Black feminist studies. She uses quantitative and qualitative methods to understand issues related to the holistic development of Black girls and women in the context of families, schools, and communities. Her current projects involve two main lines of work: (1) exploring how identity beliefs support resilience and resistance among Black women and girls, and (2) studying how Black families transmit information to their children about how to process, cope, and heal from racial discrimination and violence. In all, she is committed to pursuing equitable and transformative change within systemic structures (e.g., education and healthcare) to support Black women and girls’ wellbeing. She was recently awarded a Russell Sage Presidential Grant to investigate the unique messaging that Black parents offer to their daughters about misogynoir. She has published in peer-reviewed journals such as American Education Research Journal, Psychology of Women Quarterly, Journal of Black Psychology, and Journal of School Psychology. Dr. Leath received her B.A. in Africana Studies and Psychology from Pomona College and her Ph.D. in Education and Psychology at the University of Michigan. She has four beautiful children who keep her grounded and joyful during this academic journey.

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