Wayfinding as a concept for understanding success among Native Americans in STEM: “learning how to map through life”

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This paper discusses findings from 40 ethnographically inspired interviews with 21 Native science professionals conducted in two iterative phases (21 in Phase I and 19 in Phase II), and a structured dialogue workgroup session with a six-member subset of the interviewees. Interview and group questions were open-ended to allow the participants to drive the conversation. We approached our interpretation of the data as an opportunity for deriving insights into the nature and meanings of participant narratives and experiences, why they present their stories in a particular way, and what this can tell us about the research questions we are exploring. We identify how the way they view themselves and the way they engage with the world has been transformed through their experience in obtaining a STEM degree at historically white institutions and working as a STEM professional. We argue that these changes allow for repurposing of STEM content knowledge to (re)connect with culturally defined values and goals. We discuss this transformative process as involving wayfinding and the accumulation of what we call experiential wisdom. We contend that the dimensions of this process are not sufficiently captured in concepts widely used to discuss situations of intercultural encounter. Our research builds on research of indigenous scholars who have provided a new way of thinking about Native Americans and science education.


Funding for this project was provided by a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) program for Research and Evaluation on Education in Science and Engineering (REESE), award #DRL01251532. The views expressed here are those of the authors and do not represent those of the NSF.