Having their say: Eight high-achieving African-American undergraduate mathematics majors discuss their success and persistence in mathematics

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Journal Article

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The purpose of this study was to identify and understand the factors that influence high-achieving African American mathematics majors to persist and succeed in mathematics. The major research question guiding this study was: What perceived factors contribute to high achieving African-American junior and senior mathematics majors' decision to persist and succeed in mathematics through college? This study also sought to answer the following sub questions: (1) In what ways do African-American high achievers perceive the role of the family, educational institutions, and the community in their success and persistence in mathematics? (2) How do they perceive their own role in their success and persistence in mathematics? This study sought to understand which factors shaped the participants' decision to persist and succeed in mathematics. This study employed interpretive case study methodology in which interview data from eight high-achieving African-American mathematics majors were collected, transcribed and analyzed. The study employed elements from social, cultural, and personal factors identified in mathematics education research and factors from the college persistence literature relating to African-American students. Findings indicate that parents played an essential role in providing these high achievers with early learning experiences and advocating for them in school environments. By doing this, the students were placed in advanced academic programs by third grade that gave them access to caring teachers who held high expectations for them and provided them with challenging mathematics experiences. Participating in accelerated academic programs, having access to advanced mathematics coursework, and having peer support and teacher encouragement were factors that shaped their mathematics success in high school. Participants were involved in college scholarship programs that provided them with a variety of resources, particularly faculty and peer support that were key factors to their success and persistence as mathematics majors. The participants' social consciousness and spirituality were key factors underlying their success and persistence in mathematics, particularly in college. Implications for practice, policy and research are presented.