Date of Award

Spring 2021

Degree Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Education, PhD

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Felisha Herrera Villareal

Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member

Dina C. Maramba

Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member

Marva Cappello

Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member

Susan J Paik


My research examines the influence of community cultural wealth and tauhi va on the navigation of Pacific Islanders (PIs) in STEM. The disaggregation of data on Asian American and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) attaining STEM bachelor's degrees revealed that PIs (16%) are represented half as much as Asian Americans (35%) (NCES, 2020). Under the AAPI designation, PIs have been masked, underserved, and underresearched in higher education and STEM. For this reason, this study focuses on the educational trajectories and experiences of PIs in STEM to highlight their strengths and challenges to understand how better to serve and support PIs in STEM. In this phenomenological study, I used an asset-based framework; community cultural wealth and a PI cultural value, tauhi va, to explore how PIs navigate STEM. The research questions for this study are (a) How do community cultural wealth and tauhi va influence the navigation of Pacific Islanders in STEM? and (b) How does tauhi va create va specific to Pacific Islanders to wayfind STEM and develop community cultural wealth? This qualitative study included 31 participants who self-identified as Pacific Islander and were students and recent graduates in STEM. The methods used in this study included a brief demographic survey, an educational trajectory map, and a 60- to 90-minute semistructured artifact elicitation interview using talanoa. The main finding of this study was that the navigation of PIs in STEM was influenced by familial, aspirational, social, navigational, and resistant capital. After facing barriers such as inadequate advising, stereotype threat, and competitive and cutthroat STEM culture from peers, faculty, and staff, PI students maneuvered through the skill of wayfinding. PIs created va (space) to relate, heal, and network with other PIs and individuals who had encountered similar experiences. PIs maintain va through tauhi va, or the caretaking of sociospatial relationships through reciprocity, thus developing Pacific Islander cultural capital to navigate STEM. This qualitative research is based on the successful navigation of PIs in STEM through an asset-based framework and cultural value to highlight the positive impact of PI cultural knowledge, PI identity, and nuances of PIs in STEM.