The primary research question focuses on what kind of activities, if any, do Latina college students perform that show leadership styles in STEM-related disciplines? In this regard, participants’ leadership in 011-campus activities and even beyond the university setting is outstanding, as described in the findings. Several participants revealed their commitment to improving the college experience of younger students in STEM. Some of them worked as mentors, others were in charge of STEM-related organizations, and some others even participated in outreach activities, try'ing to influence female high school students to pursue STEM majors. These are but a few of the different activities in which participants are involved and participate as STEM college students. All participants—in some form—were striving to make a change, enhance the college climate, and promote that STEM disciplines can be for all, even women and minorities. In this sense, Eagly and Carli (2007) noted that the social expectation of women leaders is directly related to their gender, including being supportive, helping other individuals to grow, and paying attention to others’ needs. The aforementioned statement aligns with the type of activities that participants perform in their role as leaders in STEM.
The first ancillary research question corresponds to what are the leadership strategies, if any, that Latina college students use to successfully navigate their college experience in male-related disciplines? While participants perform different activities outside of the classroom that show their leadership, in the classroom they should be able to act and react to face male peers’ negative behaviors. Previous research (Banda, 2012; Forster, 2017; Johnson, 2001; Schulze 8c Tomal, 2006; Smyth & McArdle, 2004) has documented the type of microaggressions, questioning, doubts, confrontation, and problems that women in general, and minoritized women in particular, have to deal with in college. This study corroborated such research, as participants in this study commented on the difficulties they face in classrooms, especially with White male peers.
For the most part, participants were aware of their position in male- dominated disciplines. Some of them mentioned that their involvement in student organizations related to their field allowed them to create a social network, where other women and Latinas support each other. In this sense, the culture of Latinas directly affects their resilience as reflected in the interactions with others, stress management, and sense of community, along with academic and social support. As such, these are all potential factors that influence their resilience (Greene, Galambos, & Lee, 2004). Other participants become more vocal as they proactively voice their opinion in classrooms, making sure everybody knows that women can lead. As a form of human capital, participants develop their own strategies which allow them to advance their education and aspire to continue leading in and out of classrooms (Eagly & Carli, 2007).
The second ancillary research question examines what type of experiences, if any, influence the leadership adopted by Latina college students who pursue degrees in male-dominated fields? Participants show their leadership by caring about other students, helping each other, and fighting to be recognized as competent STEM students, creating a better campus-wide ambiance. The experiences of Latinas in this study evidence new ways to define what leadership entails. Aligned with Latinas’ culture, their leadership encompasses making alliances with other students, helping others develop academically and emotionally, motivating others to continue their studies or pursue STEM majors, participating more in classes, and working on improving the STEM college climate. Participants’ commitment to helping other students succeed contributed to their holistic development and reinforced the ability to manage and conquer the most demanding obstacles through resiliency. Additionally, participants experienced helping others to excel and developed the mentoring ability and affective skills which promoted communal success (Eagly & Carli, 2007). The aforementioned information resonated with several participants, as many discussed taking leadership roles in on- campus organizations and programs as the most appropriate training to become future scientists in leadership positions, which will help Latinas in their future careers.
Conclusion and Discussion
This study suggested that Latina undergraduate students show important leadership styles as a way to persist in STEM male-dominated disciplines. Some of the leadership skills they perform result from their resilience and ability to become more visible and lift their voices as minoritized students in STEM fields. In this regard, the Leadership Labyrinth Model posits that the intersection between an individual’s ethnicity and gender shapes and defines the type of leadership adopted (Eagly 8c Carli, 2007), and this is especially true for Latinas using their cultural legacy and advocacy for others to lead. In particular, Latinas’ leadership proved to be beneficial for freshman college students and even high school seniors as Latinas become role models. More importantly, the integration of leadership skills aided Latinas themselves to develop holistically and better prepare for their profession. In addition, Latinas’ strong determination, ability to connect with others, and trust in their intellectual capacity helped them overcome barriers and largely influenced their persistence in STEM. The participants of the study demonstrated the reinvention of themselves as women, Latinas, and scientists in academic spaces.
Despite literature addressing leadership-related topics of minoritized students (Beatty, 2015; Guardia, 2015; Kezar & Moriarty, 2000; Lozano, 2015; Onorato & Musoba, 2015) in higher education, there is a research gap on minoritized women, and specifically on how Latinas in STEM disciplines practice leadership. This study contributed to the literature by adding Latinas’ perspective and highlighting the strategies and activities they adopt to succeed as STEM majors. Such strategies have been useful to stand out, to be known, to be respected and admired inside and outside of the classroom. Latinas recognized that they have the ability to become a force that thrives, surpasses barriers, and finds the necessary tools to lead.