Investigating changes of underrepresented students' mathematics identities into their first year of college

Marzocchi, Alison S.
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University of Delaware
This qualitative study examined factors which, according to the students, contributed to changes to or preservation of underrepresented students' mathematics identities between their senior year of high school and completion of their freshman year of college. Specifically, the participants of this study were asked, during three one-on-one interviews, to reflect on results from a prior study in which they were participants (Marzocchi, 2013) to examine whether their mathematics identities had changed over time. The design of this study was driven by an overarching goal of examining recruitment and retention of underrepresented students in mathematics-intensive postsecondary degrees. As a means of encouraging more underrepresented students to continue postsecondary study of mathematics, I chose to focus this study on mathematics identity development. Hence, the primary research question that was addressed was What do underrepresented students report about factors that contributed to their mathematics identities after completing their first year of college, as compared to their mathematics identities at the completion of high school? To address this question, I necessarily needed to address two sub-questions: (a) How do underrepresented college freshmen describe their mathematics identities? and (b) How, if at all, did the mathematics identities of underrepresented students change between their senior year of high school and the completion of their freshman year of college? This study is significant to the field of mathematics education for several reasons. To start, the selected participants had all developed aspects of positive mathematics identities at the time of their senior year of high school. Accordingly, these students could serve as models for positive mathematics identity development in underrepresented students. Further, I interviewed students shortly after completion of their freshman year of college. The timing of the interviews illuminates the crucial first-year-college experience of underrepresented students. One way in which the participants expressed their positive mathematics identities in high school was through their intention to pursue mathematics-intensive college majors and careers. As of the completion of their first year of college, four participants persisted on a path to mathematics-intensive majors and three had switched to non-mathematics-intensive majors. These participants give us a range of insight into the factors that they reported as impacting their mathematics identities during the crucial first year of college.