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Board 127: Student Persistence and University Transitions in STEM Majors: Community College Students’ Challenges and Successes

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2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Tampa, Florida

Publication Date

June 15, 2019

Start Date

June 15, 2019

End Date

June 19, 2019

Conference Session

NSF Grantees Poster Session

Tagged Topics

Diversity and NSF Grantees Poster Session

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Paper Authors


Gisele Ragusa University of Southern California

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Gisele Ragusa is a Professor of Engineering Education at the University of Southern California. She conducts research on college transitions and retention of underrepresented students in engineering and also research about engineering global preparedness and engineering innovation. She also has research expertise in STEM K-12 and in STEM assessment. She chairs USC's STEM Consortium.

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There is a critical need for more students with engineering and science majors to enter into, persist, and graduate from postsecondary institutions. Increasing the diversity in engineering and science is also a profound identified need. According to national statistics, the largest groups of underrepresented minority students in engineering and science attend United States public higher education institutions and in particular the community colleges. Recent research has indicated that students from these populations who are strong problem solvers, and who understand how to seek assistance and navigate college campuses, are most likely persist to degree completion. Accordingly, this research examined a sample of non-traditional college students enrolled in science and engineering programs in nine urban community colleges to determine (a) the types and frequency of support practices they utilized, (b) how such practices influenced their achievement, persistence and transfer status to four-year colleges and universities, and (c) how in turn their propensity for innovation and creative problem solving affected such choices and persistence. The study analyzed the impact of pedagogical support practices—practices designed to foster successful transfer from community college to four-year colleges and universities, and how students’ innovative capability affected such transfer capacity. The goals were: (a) to understand whether particular pedagogical support practices were effective in offering non-traditional students a program that enabled them to remain in engineering and science majors and to transfer to a four-year college or university, and (b) to determine if students’ propensity for innovative problem solving influenced use of pedagogical practices and ultimately, transfer persistence. The research targeted four research questions: (1) What are the patterns of pedagogical practices that community colleges employ to enhance students’ transfer success in engineering and science? (2) How do students’ creative and innovative problem-solving approaches influence the choices that they make in using pedagogical support practices? (3) What are the impacts of pedagogical practices and differences among pedagogical practices, on persistence toward students’ transfer to colleges and universities? (4) How do students’ creative and innovative problem-solving approaches influence their persistence toward transfer to engineering and science programs at four-year universities?

This research is ongoing and involves a multi-stage study in which in in the first stage, the types of pedagogical support practices used in community colleges were analyzed and taxonomized at four community colleges. Results of this part of research led to the delineation and refining of three categories of student pedagogical support: (1) College attending support, (2) Program planning and execution support, and (3) Classroom and program performance support. These categories led to development and refinement of a college level pedagogical practice taxonomy and inventory which was used in a second and third stage of the research in which data was collected on 4929 community college students in STEM majors. The intent of these remaining of the research is to determine the role of students’ creativity and propensity of innovation had on their persistence and the impact that use of particular pedagogical practices had on their persistence, creativity and propensity for innovation in STEM. This work is ongoing, in its final year and nine community colleges are now involved in the study.

Structural equation models (SEMs) have been developed and updated with multiple rounds of data collection. These models have been used for data analyses with one containing grade point average (as a proxy for achievement) as the outcome of interest and the second with engineering creativity and propensity for innovation as the outcome of interest, both of which address the study’s research questions. Thus far the models indicate that use of pedagogical practices impact students’ creativity and propensity for innovation and propensity for innovation impacts students’ achievement (GPA as proxy.) Notably, students’ background characteristics also have pronounced impacts on the two outcomes of interest. In addition to informing engineering education research, this research informs community college faculty and student affairs personnel on which support practices best support students in STEM majors to transfer to colleges and universities and how students’ creativity and propensity for innovation affects such transfer persistence.

Ragusa, G. (2019, June), Board 127: Student Persistence and University Transitions in STEM Majors: Community College Students’ Challenges and Successes Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2--32225

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