Authenticity and Psychological Safety: Building and Encouraging Talent Among Underrepresented Students in STEM


  • Daphne E. Pedersen University of North Dakota
  • Alena Kubátová University of North Dakota
  • Rebecca B. Simmons University of North Dakota



first-generation students, mentoring, psychological safety, STEM, underrepresented students


The Undergraduate Scholarships with Mathematics and Science Training, Exploration, and Research Program (US MASTER) is a STEM scholarship program funded by the United States National Science Foundation. It was implemented at an upper-Midwest institution to target and provide structured support to low-income, academically talented undergraduates in biology, chemistry, geography and geographic information science (GISc), environmental sciences, and physics and astrophysics. In addition to providing financial support, the program features an integrated approach to mentorship and advising consisting of an ongoing seminar course in which students engage in collaborative projects, research experiences with a faculty mentor, and targeted academic advising. As part of our assessment efforts, we interviewed student participants regarding their experiences. A consistent theme emerged regarding mentorship: in addition to providing access to professional socialization experiences and the facilitation of competency and performance, students reported that it was the ability to form close relationships based on personal authenticity and feelings of psychological safety and trust that provided the best scaffolding for success in a challenging STEM environment.


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Author Biographies

Daphne E. Pedersen, University of North Dakota

Daphne E. Pedersen is Chester Fritz Distinguished Professor and department chair of sociology at the University of North Dakota. She currently serves as the co-investigator and social science researcher for the National Science Foundation S-STEM US MASTER project and is the immediate past-president of Alpha Kappa Delta International Sociology Honor Society.

Alena Kubátová, University of North Dakota

Alena Kubátová is Chester Fritz Distinguished Professor and chair of chemistry at the University of North Dakota. She currently serves as the lead of the National Science Foundation S-STEM US MASTER award, providing scholarships to students. Her ongoing interest is in promoting students’ interest in sciences through research and experiential learning.

Rebecca B. Simmons, University of North Dakota

Rebecca B. Simmons is a professor of biology at the University of North Dakota. She is the educational coordinator for the National Science Foundation S-STEM US MASTER program, which supports talented students from underrepresented groups in STEM fields and serves as an inclusion ambassador for UND's College of Arts and Sciences.


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How to Cite

Pedersen, Daphne E., Alena Kubátová, and Rebecca B. Simmons. 2022. “Authenticity and Psychological Safety: Building and Encouraging Talent Among Underrepresented Students in STEM”. Teaching and Learning Inquiry 10 (September).