Beyond the numbers: understanding how a diversity mentoring program welcomes students into a scientific community
Programs designed to broaden participation in science are often deemed “successful” based on quantitative evidence such as student participation rates, retention, and persistence. These numbers alone only explain that a program met its goals; they seldom critically explain how, specifically, the program achieved its success. To address this gap, we studied students’ perspectives about and experiences with the Ecological Society of America's award-winning education and diversity mentoring program, Strategies for Ecology Education, Diversity and Sustainability (SEEDS). The persistence rate in ecology by SEEDS participants is three times greater than the national average, but the numbers alone do not explain the program's impact. We explored the reasons why this program has been so successful by gathering qualitative data as direct evidence explaining how SEEDS influenced participants’ decisions to study science and pursue science careers, and the resulting integration into a scientific community. We coded open-ended survey responses from SEEDS alumni against a social influence theoretical framework that proposes three dominant processes that predict students’ integration into a scientific community: scientific self-efficacy, scientific identity, and shared values with the scientific community. We not only found emergent evidence for all three processes, but we also gained a deeper understanding of how—in participants’ own words—SEEDS achieves its success. Specifically, SEEDS successfully welcomes students into a science community by (1) providing both breadth and depth of programming that offers flexible, multilayered approaches to developing self-efficacy to fit the needs of diverse students, (2) enabling participants to integrate a science identity into other preexisting identities, and (3) implementing programming that intentionally helps participants to consciously connect their values with those of their communities.