Research News

Leyva receives two national distinctions for equity in STEM education


Luis Leyva (Vanderbilt University)

Luis Leyva, associate professor of mathematics education and STEM higher education at Vanderbilt Peabody College of education and human development, was recently recognized  by Diverse: Issues in Higher Education and Out in STEM (oSTEM) for his research contributions that promote educational equity for underrepresented students in STEM.

This month, Diverse honored Leyva as an Emerging Scholar, a distinction given to scholars, ages 40 and under, from diverse social backgrounds who are making critical contributions to academia. The editorial team at Diverse selects 15 Emerging Scholars each year and chose members of the Class of 2024 from hundreds of competitive nominations.

The Emerging Scholar distinction primarily recognized Leyva’s leadership and mentorship as director of the Power, Resistance & Identity in STEM Education (PRISM) Research Lab at Vanderbilt. The PRISM Lab houses various research projects that build theory and inform practice about equitable educational opportunities in undergraduate STEM with specific attention to issues of intersectionality. Leyva guides an interdisciplinary collective of Ph.D., master’s, and undergraduate student researchers with robust social diversity across PRISM projects advancing equity and justice in STEM higher education.

In November, oSTEM also recognized Leyva with the 2023 Global STEM Service Award for his national study, Queer Students of Color in STEM, which explores the experiences of undergraduate Black, Latin*, and Asian students in the LGBTQ+ community pursuing STEM majors at historically white and minority-serving institutions. According to Leyva, the term Latin* responds to (mis)use of Latinx as a gender-neutral term originally intended for explicit inclusion among gender nonconforming peoples of Latin American origin and descent. The asterisk in Latin* considers fluidity in gender identities across the Latin American diaspora.

The study addresses the paucity of research about LGBTQ+ people in STEM with an explicit focus on intersectionality, namely, how race and culture shape experiences of oppression and empowerment among queer and trans* STEM students of color, whose voices are virtually absent in the literature. Findings from this project inform the improvement of curricular designs and classroom instruction that allow queer and trans* students of color to feel seen and supported in their identities as learners and future professionals in STEM. Leyva says the term trans* describes individuals who depart from their assigned gender at birth and move across socially-constructed boundaries in normative views of gender, including those who do and do not pursue medical gender-affirming treatment as well as those who identify with binary and nonbinary genders. The term’s asterisk ensures broad inclusion of gender identities and expressions (e.g., transgender, transfeminine, trans man, transsexual).

“I am delighted to see Luis Leyva honored by receiving the Global STEM Service Award and being named an Emerging Scholar,” said Camilla Benbow, Patricia and Rodes Hart Dean of Education and Human Development. “Luis’s scholarship continues to expand our knowledge about the experiences of marginalized students in STEM education and the actions institutions can take to improve those experiences and outcomes. I share my deepest congratulations with Luis for these distinct honors.”

oSTEM is the largest chapter-based organization in and beyond the U.S. for LGBTQ+ people in STEM. The Global STEM Service Award recognizes oSTEM members, alumni, and other affiliates who demonstrate deep commitment to oSTEM, LGBTQ+ people in STEM, and STEM education.

“I am grateful to be recognized by oSTEM and Diverse for my commitment to advancing the cause of social justice through research. My academic career started in—and has been significantly influenced by—oSTEM, so being recognized by this organization is very meaningful to me. Likewise, Diverse’s recognition is incredibly validating for me as a researcher who aims to improve humanity, especially in mathematics and STEM fields broadly. I could not do this work without my outstanding team in the PRISM Lab. These honors reflect the work we do together as a community of scholars,” Leyva said.

The Global STEM Service Award and Emerging Scholar recognition follow a line of professional accolades for Leyva. In 2022, he was named the LGBTQ+ Educator of the Year by Out to Innovate. He also received the 2018 Early Career Publication Award from the Research in Mathematics Education special interest group of the American Educational Research Association.