New Orleans, Louisiana
February 20, 2022
February 20, 2022
July 20, 2022
Diversity and CoNECD Paper Sessions
Introduction A Step to the Doctorate Institute was a new program offering at Virginia Tech (VT) in Fall 2020. The program is situated within objectives of the Center for the Enhancement of Engineering Diversity (CEED), namely: ● to increase the diversity of students who apply to, enroll, and graduate from the College of Engineering at VT; ● to increase the awareness of engineering and other technical fields as an exciting and rewarding career path to a diverse population; [and in particular] ● to provide academic, professional and personal support programs. (Virginia Tech Engineering) The goals were to provide exposure to graduate school, and to help participants prepare for graduate applications. At the conclusion of the program, the practitioner-researchers surveyed the student participants in order examine effectiveness in meeting those goals. This practitioner presentation aims to: ● Describe the 2020 and 2021 offerings of the A Step to the Doctorate Institute and the initial exit survey instrument and its results ● Identify next steps for the practitioner-researchers, including connecting to similar programs Literature Review Despite advances in bridging the divide, significant gaps remain between the attainment of underrepresented minority (URM) students in STEM and that of their white and Asian peers (Hurtado et al., 2010). While industry and academia continue to lament this disparity (Myers & Pavel, 2011; Okhana, Zhou, & Gao, 2020) and focus on growing the number of URMs in the STEM labor force (Le, Mourikes, & Roy, 2020), scholars in engineering education have critiqued the pipeline analogy and sought to also bring nuance to the discussion of increasing equity in STEM (Covington, Chavis, & Perry, 2017; Griffin, 2019). A Step to the Doctorate Institute is among several programs developed in the past two decades seeking to increase engagement of URMs in STEM and higher education. Scholarship on these programs has focused on program effectiveness (Hurtado et al., 2010; Lam et al., 2003; Maton et al., 2000) and impact on retention and graduation (Brothers & Knox, 2013; Cole & Espinoza, 2008; Lane, 2016; Stolle-McAllister et al., 2010). Research also links student success to career identity perception (Carlone & Johnson, 2007; Johnson et al., 2007; Miller et al., 2017) and socialization to academia and STEM (Austin, 2002), including the effects of attending minority serving institutions (Palmer et al., 2013). Faculty mentoring is also factor in student success and transition to professions in STEM (Fifolt et al., 2014; Hurtado et al., 2011). Program Description: A Step to the Doctorate 2020 To address its goals, the A Step to the Doctorate Institute consisted of two 6-hour “bootcamps” on consecutive Saturdays in September 2020, online via Zoom due to COVID-19 related precautions. Twelve students self-selected from among 246 URMs in engineering majors, who were identified by the CEED office and emailed an invitation. Presentations by VT faculty, professional staff, and graduate students centered on the graduate experience with a focus on URMs in STEM, graduate school resources and funding opportunities, and a personal statement writing workshop. The program also offered continued access to coaching with the personal statement instructor through the end of the graduate school applications season. Methods We developed a survey instrument with multiple aims, including to assess the institute, to identify opportunities to improve the program from the perspective of its participants, and to better understand students’ goals for applying to graduate school in STEM fields. The survey also poses demographic questions related to known obstacles to URMs’ access and acculturation to graduate school. Findings From our demographics-based survey questions, we found that 7 (87%) of the participants identify as Black and 1 (12%) of the participants identify as Afro-Latino. Also, 1 (12%) of the students are first-generation college students and (75%) of the respondents stated that they have a challenging time financing their education. Several questions inquired about the academic and professional development of the respondents. All the participants reported enjoying warm relationships with their academic advisors despite the inability to meet in person. Several respondents were uncertain about their plans after graduation. The participants weighed the graduate curriculum and proximity to their families when applying to graduate school, while funding was not seen as important. Participants reported that connections and experiences they had with the mentors and administrators were the most beneficial aspect of the program. The program activities enjoyed mostly favorable reviews, though students showed less interest in funding than the practitioner-researchers had expected. When asked for suggestions for the future of the program, participants suggested more targeted activities and improving the scheduling and logistics of the program. Discussion There was a lack of first-generation college students who participated in the program, with this group of URMs reflecting that overall marker of Virginia Tech students. The program aimed in part to reach more first-generation undergraduate students interested in continuing their education in STEM, which relates to questions raised above about equity in STEM. On a related note, participants did not see value in discussions of funding. Other common patterns from the post-survey results included the applicants’ general reluctance to commit to applying to graduate school even after the program ended, and a lack of communication between the participants and their academic advisors regarding graduate school. In general, the program was reviewed favorably, and most of the students will be attending graduate school at Virginia Tech. Conclusion: Next Steps While the 2021 offering of A Step to the Doctorate Institute is underway, the practitioner-researchers have identified the following next steps for this project: ● Present and discuss the program with other practitioners and researchers in the engineering education community who work with programs to enhance diversity in STEM graduate programs ● Conduct a literature review and field survey of programs to increase diversity, equality, and equity in STEM ● Identify and implement best practices to meet program goals and opportunities to grow the A Step to the Doctorate Institute.
Nwosu, K., & Waller, T. O., & Wright, M. J., & Ekoniak, M. (2022, February), Increasing Minority Student Applications to STEM Graduate Programs: Lessons Learned and Outlook for a New Program Paper presented at 2022 CoNECD (Collaborative Network for Engineering & Computing Diversity) , New Orleans, Louisiana. https://peer.asee.org/39124
ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2022 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015