Abstract: "From a seminary for newly freedwomen in the 19th century “Deep South” of the United States to a “Model Institution for Excellence” in undergraduate science, technology, engineering, and math education, the narrative of Spelman College is a critical piece to understanding the overall history and socially constructed nature of science and higher education in the U.S. Making a place for science at Spelman College, disrupts and redefines the presumed and acceptable roles of African American women in science and their social, political and economic engagements in U.S society as a whole. Over the course of 16 months, I explore the narrative experiences of members of the Spelman campus community and immerse myself in the environment to experience becoming of member of a scientific community that asserts a place for women of African descent in science and technology and perceives this positionality as positive, powerful and the locus of agency.
My intention is to offer this research as an in-depth ethnographic presentation of intentional science learning, knowledge production and practice as lived experiences at the multiple intersections of the constructs of race, gender, positionality and U.S science itself. In this research, I am motivated to move the contemporary discourse of diversifying science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields in the U.S. academy, beyond the chronicling of women of African descent as statistical rarities over time, as subjectivities and the deficit frameworks that theoretically encapsulate their narratives. The findings of this research demonstrate that Spelman students, staff and alumni are themselves, the cultural capital that validates Spelman’s identity as a place, its institutional mission and are at the core of the institutional success of the college. It is a personal mission as much as it is an institutional mission, which is precisely what makes it powerful."
AO: This 2015 dissertation thesis is from Holly Okonkwo's first project exploring the education of women of African descent in science and technology and perceptions about their positionality as positive, powerful and the locus of agency.