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Do I Belong in STEM?


Christine R. Dahlin
Department of Biology
University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown


The STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields have traditionally lacked diversity as compared to non-STEM fields, and have had difficulty retaining students from diverse backgrounds. This case study serves multiple purposes: to help students understand that fears and anxieties regarding the challenges of STEM are commonly shared among students, regardless of background; to provide students in the STEM field who have had little exposure to diversity training with an introduction to such teachings and its relevance to the STEM field; and to help students persevere in STEM fields despite the challenges that exist. Upon completing the case, students should have an increased socio-political awareness of the diversity issues pertaining to STEM and the broader culture. They should also have gained a greater appreciation for the manner in which STEM fields are enhanced by contributions from individuals from diverse backgrounds. This case also fosters network-building among students and is thus particularly appropriate for freshman classes.


  • Learn the concept of diversity and why diversity is essential in STEM.
  • Work to enhance inclusivity in STEM environments so that students from all backgrounds feel that they belong.
  • Develop a better understanding of both the challenges and rewards that working in STEM presents.
  • Persevere despite the challenges presented by STEM environments.
  • Build stronger social networks with fellow STEM students.
  • Acquire socio-political awareness that will better prepare them to be conscientious STEM scientists and citizens of the world.
  • Improve graphing and data interpretation skills.


Diversity; STEM; inclusion; bias; marginalized; minority; socialization; privilege; racism; stereotype threat; tolerance

Topical Areas

Ethics, Social issues, Social justice issues, Women in science

Educational Level

Undergraduate lower division, General public & informal education, Faculty development



Type / Methods

Problem-Based Learning



Subject Headings

Science (General)  |   Science Education  |  

Date Posted


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The following video(s) are recommended for use in association with this case study.

  • The Future of STEM Depends on Diversity
    Scientist Nicole Cabrera Salazar shares her perspective on diversity in STEM and the reasons we should actively engage underrepresented groups in STEM disciplines. Running time: 14:43 min. Produced by TedX, 2015.
  • Reprogramming Your Brain to Overcome Fear
    Ms. LePoint went from a failing inner-city math student to a successful rocket scientist, and describes her methodology for overcoming fears and anxieties in a way that is useable for students of all backgrounds. Running time: 15:09 min. Produced by Olympia LePoint, TedX, 2014.