Informal learning in SME majors for African American female undergraduates


  • Ezella McPherson Wayne State University


STEM Education, African American Women, Gender Studies, Qualitative Research


This research investigates how eight undergraduate African American women in science, math, and engineering (SME) majors accessed cultural capital and informal science learning opportunities from preschool to college. It uses the multiple case study methodological approach and cultural capital as the framework to better understand their opportunities to engage in free-choice science learning. The article demonstrates that African American women have access to cultural capital and informal science learning inside and outside of home and school environments in P-16 settings. In primary and secondary schools, African American girls acquire cultural capital and access to free-choice science learning in the home environment, museums, science fairs, student organizations and clubs. However, in high school African American female teenagers have fewer informal science learning opportunities like those such as those provided in primary school settings. In college, cultural capital is transmitted through informal science learning that consisted of involvement in student organizations, research projects, seminars, and conferences. These experiences contributed to their engagement and persistence in SME fields in K-16 settings. This research adds to cultural capital and informal science learning research by allowing scholars to better understand how African American women have opportunities to learn about the hidden curriculum of science through informal science settings throughout the educational pipeline.

Author Biography

Ezella McPherson, Wayne State University



Dr. McPherson's research focuses on equity in K-20 schools. Her past scholarship focused on school tracking, school desegregation, and  health in African American communities.  Her current research focuses on college student success, including underrepresented populations in STEM fields. 
She is committed to the retention, persistence,
and graduation of college and graduate students. Currently, she serves as an administrator at Wayne State University, an urban public
research university in Detroit, Michigan.


Dr. Ezella McPherson earned her bachelorΓÇÖs degree from the University
of Michigan-Ann Arbor. She earned her Masters of Education and
Doctorate of Philosophy in Educational Policy Studies from  the
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.