Introduction: In this paper, we examine the role of familial habitus in providing early access to navigational capital and opportunities predictive of STEM success. We answer the following questions: How do students with disabilities describe their families’ response to pre-college STEM aspirations? How do students with disabilities describe their families’ involvement with pre-college STEM aspirations?
Methods: This qualitative research paper used cross-case study design to understand the experiences of students with disabilities in STEM and the role of family therein. We interviewed 18 students with non-apparent disabilities at a large, four-year research university in New England. Using inductive and deductive coding, we found that family emerged as a prominent theme in almost all of the participants’ narratives.
Findings: Parents and family played a key role in multiple dimensions of student experiences with disability. We organized the findings around three themes about family: 1) Family’s framing of disability and academic ability; 2) Family support of STEM interests; and 3) Family as STEM role models.
Discussion: Previous research has shown that students with disabilities have high STEM aspirations, but obstacles in postsecondary environments can inhibit their STEM success. We extend these findings to highlight the importance of family more broadly, supporting research that indicates the critical role that parental involvement plays in the development of STEM aspirations and success.
Conclusion: This study shows that families were generally very involved in both the development of pre-college STEM aspirations and the academic success of students with disabilities.
Implications for Practice
For practice, this study suggests that:
- Institutions should examine where barriers may be occurring in terms of STEM participation and a) offer additional support to help students and b) adopt strategies to remove these bottlenecks.
- Families play a key role in STEM aspirations and achievement; institutions should work to provide families with information about STEM, advice on setting a positive tine for children about STEM, and encourage course-taking in STEM.
- Students with disabilities should be provided with tutors, role models, and mentors in STEM fields.
- Institutions should communicate with students with disabilities about STEM careers.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Copyright (c) 2022 Lauren Gordon