Discerning contextual complexities in STEM career pathways: insights from successful Latinas

  • Alejandro J. Gallard MartínezEmail author
  • Wesley Pitts
  • Silvia Lizette Ramos de Robles
  • Katie L. Milton Brkich
  • Belinda Flores Bustos
  • Lorena Claeys
Original Paper


This paper introduces the concept of contextual mitigating factors (CMFs) as a theoretical construct to help understand how Latinas who demonstrated success in STEM pipelines navigated the fluidly and dynamically shifting socio-historical-political contexts in which they found themselves. Further, understanding the ways in which CMFs contribute to the development of circumstances within fluid social fields is essential to understand the factors which Latinas both experience and create in their social interactions. We framed the development of CMFs within discussions of social place (Bourdieu and Wacquant in An invitation to reflexive sociology, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1992), social field (Swartz in Culture and power: the sociology of Pierre Bourdieu, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1997), and dynamic space (Tobin in Keynote address at 8th international congress on science teaching and learning, Barcelona, Spain, 2009). Given that CMFs appear as the result of social interactions within contextualized spaces, acknowledging the importance of place, be it physical or metaphorical, is essential in framing discussions on the sense-making of the participants’ STEM successes. In accounting for our participants’ positionalities and the materiality of their contextual experiences, we use CMFs as a theoretical underpinning to guide our methodological approach which we identify as CMF analysis. In each case, CMF analysis is used to explore how positionalities and experiences reflexively shaped each other, all while contributing to individual and social personhoods. Furthermore, the use of CMFs, by placing importance on both context and history, allowed us to discern not only the similarities of our participants’ sociocultural, -economical, -historical and -political navigations toward success, but also the substantive differences between them. In presenting our discussion of CMFs, we present two of sixty case studies focusing on Latinas’ successes in STEM fields using the intrinsic case study method (Stake, in: Denzin, Lincoln (eds) The SAGE handbook of qualitative research, 3rd edn, pp 443–466, SAGE, Thousand Oaks, 2005). This was the most appropriate method in analyzing our participants’ experiences, because this allowed our participants to tell their stories of becoming and being successful in pursuing STEM pathways. Marrying this framework with intrinsic case study method provided internal consistency to the study. Ultimately, we want other researchers to see the benefits associated with CMF analysis, namely the provision of an additive framework in understanding the lived experiences of minority groups. By accounting for the role macro-, meso-, and microgenic CMFs play in the minority students’ educational experiences, educators at all levels may play a substantively larger role in helping sustain their agency as learners.


Contextual mitigating factors Resiliency Latinas STEM Tactical understanding 


Este artículo presenta el concepto de factores contextuales mitigante (CMFs) como un constructo teórico para ayudar a entender cómo las latinas que demostraron el éxito en las líneas relacionadas con STEM navegaban por contextos socio-histórico-políticos fluidos y dinámicamente cambiantes en los que se encontraban. Además, es esencial entender las formas en que los CMF contribuyen al desarrollo de las circunstancias dentro de los campos sociales fluidos para identificar los factores que las latinas experimentan y crean en sus interacciones sociales. Enmarcamos el desarrollo de CMF dentro de las discusiones sobre el lugar social (Bourdieu y Wacquant 1992), el campo social (Swartz 1997) y el espacio dinámico (Tobin 2009). Dado que las CMF aparecen como el resultado de interacciones sociales dentro de espacios contextualizados, reconocer la importancia del lugar, ya sea físico o metafórico, es esencial para enmarcar las discusiones sobre el sentido y significado de los éxitos en STEM de los participantes. Al tomar en cuenta la posicionalidad de nuestros participantes y la materialidad de sus experiencias contextuales, utilizamos los CMF como un soporte teórico para guiar nuestro enfoque metodológico que identificamos como análisis CMF. En cada caso, el análisis CMF se usa para explorar cómo las posiciones y las experiencias se moldearon de forma reflexiva, al tiempo que contribuyeron a las personalidades individuales y sociales. Además, el uso de los CMF, al dar importancia tanto en el contexto como en la historia, nos permitió discernir no sólo las similitudes de las navegaciones socioculturales, económicas, históricas y políticas de nuestros participantes hacia el éxito, sino también las diferencias sustantivas entre ellos. Al presentar nuestra discusión sobre los CMF, presentamos dos de los sesenta estudios de casos que se centran en los éxitos de las latinas en campos de STEM utilizando el método de estudio de casos intrínseco (Stake 2005). Este fue el método más apropiado para analizar las experiencias de nuestros participantes, porque permitió a nuestros participantes contar sus historias sobre cómo llegar a tener éxito en la búsqueda de las líneas STEM. Casarse con este marco con el método de estudio de casos intrínseco proporcionó coherencia interna al estudio. En última instancia, queremos que otros investigadores vean los beneficios asociados con el análisis de CMF, es decir, la provisión de un marco adicional para comprender las experiencias vividas de los grupos minoritarios. Al considerar el papel que desempeñan los CMF macro-, meso- y microgénicos en las experiencias educativas de los estudiantes de minorías, los educadores en todos los niveles pueden desempeñar un papel sustancialmente mejor para ayudar a mantener su agencia como aprendices.

Palabras Claves

Factores contextuales mitigantes Resiliencia Latinas STEM Conocimiento táctico 


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Alejandro J. Gallard Martínez
    • 1
    Email author
  • Wesley Pitts
    • 2
  • Silvia Lizette Ramos de Robles
    • 3
  • Katie L. Milton Brkich
    • 4
  • Belinda Flores Bustos
    • 5
  • Lorena Claeys
    • 5
  1. 1.Department of Teaching and Learning, College of EducationGeorgia Southern UniversityStatesboroUSA
  2. 2.Lehman CollegeBrooklynUSA
  3. 3.Universidad de GuadalajaraGuadalajaraUSA
  4. 4.Georgia Southern UniversityStatesboroUSA
  5. 5.University of Texas at San AntonioSan AntonioUSA

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