Corina Hernandez Ed.D. Dissertation Defense: “Undergraduate Women of Color in Computer Science: How Social and Academic Experiences Shape Sense of Belonging”

10:00 am - 12:00 pm

Abstract: “While significant advancements in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) are at the forefront of society, there continues to be a considerable gender and racial gap in the advancement of women of color in these fields (Espinosa, 2011; Ong et al., 2011; Shein, 2018). The problem of low completion rates expands further when looking at Black and Latina women in computer science (CS). This phenomenological study examined how the academic and social experiences of Black and Latina women computer science students shaped their journeys and sense of belonging as developing computer scientists. Drawing upon two interviews and journal entries, this study unpacked how this group of women of color are experiencing their journey through CS at Rutgers. I used Critical Race Theory (CRT) and Strayhorn’s (2012, 2018) model for sense of belonging for STEM students as frameworks for interpreting the experiences of women of color and perhaps what leads to attrition or unwelcome environments. The findings of this study depict an isolating experience for Black and Latinas in CS. They faced racist and sexist comments from their peers, which deeply impacted their ability to feel connected. Students were conscious of their status as “only one” and this hindered their ability to develop a sense of belonging. To counteract these feelings, many of the participants found solace in women-centric programming including a Computer ScienceLiving Learning Community. These support services, that were funded by Rutgers University, transformed their experiences and helped many of the participants persist in the major.”

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