Date of Award

January 2022

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Teaching & Learning

First Advisor

Donna K. Pearson


As the United States works towards strengthening and diversifying the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) workforce, many national charges aim to increase the quantity of female participants, while overlooking how systematic barriers affect the quality of female students’ education. Many STEM workforce development programs, such as the National Space Grant College and Fellowship Program, are committed to improving the nation’s diversity, equity, and inclusivity (DEI) efforts, enabling technical education through hands-on team-based learning (TBL) environments.

The purpose of this study was to take a holistic approach to assess how gender DEI in STEM team environments influence the quality of female students’ learning outcomes and experiences. The socio-ecological framework, guided by feminist standpoint theory, was used to explore how the macro- and micro-levels affect female team members. Through a mixed-methods approach, this work presents two studies: 1) a qualitative document analysis (QDA) that analyzes STEM programs’ recruitment documents and assesses how gender DEI is integrated into STEM programs’ student-centric policies, and 2) a survey tool that analyzes how gender relates to technical task distribution and individual students’ experiences.

Data analysis showed that a lack of gender DEI integration into STEM programs negatively influences students’ learning outcomes. First, almost all of the national STEM programs failed to embed gender DEI into the programmatic frameworks and strategic goals. Second, female students were statistically more likely to lead the non-technical tasks on STEM teams, reinforcing the traditional gender roles found in the literature. Also, although female students reported similar motivation levels as the male students, they were less likely to: (a) conduct technical tasks, X2 (1, N = 203) = 7.8, p = .005, (b) feel like they can lead group work and be effective, X2 (3, N = 192) = 12.9, p = .005, and (c) feel like they belong to the STEM community, X2 (5, N = 196) = 10.7, p = .05. Female students were also statistically more likely to (d) feel like an outsider, X2 (5, N = 196) = 11.8, p = .04, and (e) believe they can effectively coordinate tasks and activities of a group, X2 (3, N = 192) = 12.9, p = .005.

These findings add to a growing body of literature that national efforts are not sustaining a conducive environment that promotes equitable learning experiences. The STEM workforce will fail to see its full potential until systems of inequalities are addressed at all levels of the socio-ecological system.