Investigating how STEM Baccalaureate Graduates use Assets Developed through Higher Education to Navigate Career Transitions
Effective Years: 2022-2026
This project focuses on a critical juncture in the STEM education and workforce pipeline, the transition of community college students into baccalaureate degree programs and potentially to graduate school. This transition period is especially important for students from groups that are underrepresented in their overall participation in STEM fields of study. The goal of the investigators is to understand how STEM transfer students use assets, such as disciplinary co-curricular opportunities obtained through higher education, as they transition into post-baccalaureate careers or graduate school. The project is motivated by a prior study of community college students that documented lost research opportunities, internships, and jobs; derailed or delayed plans for graduate school; challenges related to remote instruction; delays in graduation; and decreased sense of competency in STEM. The study will produce nuanced recommendations to improve practice by exploring group differences in graduates’ experiences and outcomes and a conceptual model that illustrates the relationship among factors that influence students’ post-college choices and transitions. The results could inform interventions to mitigate the leaky STEM pipeline for community college students.
The investigators will pursue three objectives. First is to longitudinally investigate transitions into early careers or graduate/professional school of a diverse population of STEM baccalaureate graduates from three public universities. Second is to compare graduates’ professional transitions and outcomes for students who began their studies in community college and those who entered the university directly. Third is to use an asset-based framework to explore how graduates use networks, skills, and competencies developed during higher education to navigate post-college transitions. The central research question is how are recent STEM baccalaureate graduates – including former transfer students – using those assets developed through higher education to navigate early post-college transitions? The investigators will use a mixed-methods descriptive case study design to collect and analyze data from individual interviews with a stratified sample of STEM graduates and employ narrative analysis of students’ STEM pathways to complement analytic coding. Focusing on longer-term outcomes from disciplinary, co-curricular activities will enable the study to provide discipline-specific recommendations to strengthen connections between undergraduate preparation and STEM professional environments.
The project is funded by the EHR Core Research Program (ECR). ECR supports fundamental STEM education research projects that address STEM learning and learning environments, broadening participation in STEM fields, and STEM workforce development.
This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.