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The Road to Becoming a Scientist: A Mixed Methods Investigation of Supports and Barriers Experienced by First-Year Community College Students


by Xueli Wang, Kelly Wickersham, Seo Young Lee, Na Lor, Ashley N. Gaskew & Amy Prevost - 2020

Background: Although a long line of research has been devoted to transfer pathways in general, there remains limited work on the capacity for community colleges to cultivate STEM baccalaureate transfer. In particular, both quantitative and qualitative evidence is extremely sparse on how STEM-aspiring students beginning at community colleges experience supports and barriers on their journey to pursue a STEM baccalaureate.

Purpose: This mixed-methods study addresses the question: What salient factors are associated with beginning community college STEM students’ decisions to transfer into baccalaureate STEM programs, and how do students describe the supports and barriers they experienced specifically pertaining to these factors?

Research Design: Guided by the STEM Transfer model, we carried out this research using an explanatory sequential mixed-methods design. We incorporated survey, administrative, and interview data from three large two-year institutions in a Midwestern state. We applied Artificial Neural Network (ANN) techniques to identify factors associated with beginning community college STEM students’ decisions to transfer into baccalaureate STEM programs. Based on the factors that emerged from ANN, we analyzed the interview data to give meaning to the identified factors using students’ rich descriptions of their experiences.

Findings: Results from the ANN revealed that students’ initial attitudes toward science was the most salient factor related to transfer in STEM. Following that, GPA, students’ initial attitudes toward math, transfer capital, being employed full time, major declaration, science preparation in high school, income levels above middle level, and transfer efficacy also turned out to be important variables shaping students’ transfer in STEM. Qualitative results further illustrated how the factors from the ANN exerted their impact.

Conclusions: This mixed-methods research illuminated significant factors shaping the road to becoming a scientist, as well as how those factors manifested their influences within the contexts of students’ educational journeys. Through this approach, we were able to establish the significance of influential factors without presuming directionality and leverage the interview data to disentangle how these factors functioned independently and together in sophisticated and nuanced ways. Our study brings forth a deeper understanding of community college students’ STEM pathways, including the many plot twists and processes involved to overcome challenges and maintain progress.



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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 122 Number 3, 2020, p. -
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 23000, Date Accessed: 12/6/2019 1:18:54 PM

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About the Author
  • Xueli Wang
    University of Wisconsin-Madison
    E-mail Author
    XUELI WANG is a professor in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She studies college students’ learning, pathways, and success, with a particular focus on community colleges and STEM education. Her recent work includes “Toward a Holistic Theoretical Model of Momentum for Community College Student Success,” published in Higher Education: Handbook of Theory and Research and a co-authored piece, “Does Active Learning Contribute to Transfer Intent Among 2-Year College Students Beginning in STEM?” published in The Journal of Higher Education.
  • Kelly Wickersham
    University of Wisconsin-Madison
    E-mail Author
    KELLY WICKERSHAM is a post-doctoral research associate at the Wisconsin Center for Education Research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her research addresses community college student pathways and success, including student pathways and learning in STEM. Her recent publications include co-authored pieces, “Exploring Sources and Influences of Social Capital on Community College Students’ First-Year Success: Does Age Make a Difference?” published in Teachers College Record and “Exploring the Relationship Between Longitudinal Course-Taking Patterns and In-State Transfer into STEM Fields of Study” in The Journal of Higher Education.
  • Seo Young Lee
    Prometric
    E-mail Author
    SEO YOUNG LEE is a psychometrician at Prometric. Her research interests include the application of measurement models and statistical methods to address issues in education. Her recent publications include co-authored work, “The Role of Aspirational Experiences and Behaviors in Cultivating Momentum for Transfer Access in STEM: Variations Across Gender and Race” in Community College Review and “Does Active Learning Contribute to Transfer Intent Among 2-Year College Students Beginning in STEM?” in The Journal of Higher Education.
  • Na Lor
    University of Wisconsin-Madison
    E-mail Author
    NA BEDOLLA LOR is a doctoral student in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She is an Interdisciplinary Training Program Pre-Doctoral Fellow with the Institute for Education Sciences and a research associate at Wisconsin’s Equity and Inclusion Laboratory. Her research involves the use of mixed methods to examine the role of culture in higher education as it relates to student outcomes and higher education policy and practice.
  • Ashley Gaskew
    University of Wisconsin-Madison
    E-mail Author
    ASHLEY GASKEW is a doctoral student pursuing a joint PhD in the Departments of Curriculum and Instruction and Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Ashley’s research interests involve studying the long- and short-term impacts of for-profit education on students and faculty of color. Her most recent publications include a co-edited book, Critical Theory and Qualitative Data Analysis in Education and a co-written book chapter, “Cultivating Aspirational Capital Among Black Men in Community Colleges” in Engaging African American Males in Community Colleges.
  • Amy Prevost
    University of Wisconsin-Madison
    E-mail Author
    AMY PREVOST is an associate researcher at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her work focuses on educational pathways in STEM programs, student outcomes at the post-secondary level, including access to careers, and experiences that contribute to students’ abilities to transfer knowledge. Her recent work includes co-authored articles, “The Role of Aspirational Experiences and Behaviors in Cultivating Momentum for Transfer Access in STEM: Variations Across Gender and Race” published in Community College Review and “A Researcher-Practitioner Partnership on Remedial Math Contextualization in career and Technical Education Programs” in New Directions for Community Colleges.
 
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