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“It's not about making money, but it kind of is about making money”: How Socio-economic Status Influences Science and Engineering Identity for Community College Students in an S-STEM Program

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2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


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Publication Date

June 22, 2020

Start Date

June 22, 2020

End Date

June 26, 2021

Conference Session

2-Year College Division: Students and the Pipeline

Tagged Division

Two-Year College

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Paper Authors


Sarah Rodriguez

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Sarah Rodriguez, PhD, is an Associate Professor of Higher Education & Learning Technologies at Texas A&M University - Commerce. Dr. Rodriguez’s research addresses issues of equity, access, and retention for Latina/o students in the higher education pipeline, with a focus on the intersections of gender and race/ethnicity for Latinas in STEM. She has experience coordinating large-scale interdisciplinary research projects focused on engineering and other STEM disciplines which have been sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF). Dr. Rodriguez has also worked with the project Engaging Latino Students for Transfer and College Completion a national initiative focused on helping institutions strengthen Latina/o student engagement, transfer, and college completion. She has also served as a New Mathways Project Mentorship Program Coach for the Charles A. Dana Center, supporting college implementation of multiple mathematics pathways, acceleration to complete college level math courses quickly, and intentional use of strategies. Dr. Rodriguez has presented at conferences at the national, regional, and local levels and authored journal articles, book chapters, policy briefs, and other publications on Latina/o student success.

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Brian Le Iowa State University

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An alum of Iowa State University and Marquette University, Brian is currently the Undergraduate Program Coordinator for the Science Bound program where he works with Scholars from marginalized backgrounds to help them pursue and obtain an ASTEM (Agriculture, Science, Technology, Engineering Math) degree at Iowa State. His career goals and interests is to obtain a PhD in Higher Education Administration and work to be a voice for those who may seem to be voiceless.

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Maria L Espino M.A Iowa State University of Science and Technology

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Maria Luz Espino, M.A. is a doctoral student and graduate research assistant in the Higher Education Administration program at Iowa State University. She holds a Masters degree in Educational Policy and Leadership from Marquette University and a Bachelors degree in Community and Nonprofit Leadership and Gender and Women Studies from the University of Wisconsin - Madison. She investigates issues of college access and retention of first-generation low-income students, especially within Community colleges and four-year institutions, through the college students' intersections of gender, race, and sexuality.

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It is important for undergraduate science and engineering majors to see themselves as the type of person who become a scientist or engineer. Students who do not see themselves in these roles are at higher risk of switching majors or dropping out of college altogether. Despite the growing literature on identity development, little empirical work has focused on the science and engineering identity experiences of community college students. This study explored how community college students in an S-STEM program made meaning of their experiences and developed science and engineering identities, with a focus on how socio-economic status (SES) influenced this process. The current study focused on the following two research questions:

1. How do community college students in an S-STEM Program develop and maintain their science or engineering identities? 2. How does SES influence the development of science or engineering identities for community college students in an S-STEM Program?

The study utilized a qualitative, phenomenological research approach to understand how students developed and maintained science and engineering identities. Study participants included 9 community college students in a science and engineering-focused National Science Foundation (NSF) Scholarships in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (S-STEM) program that provided financial assistance and community building activities for participants.

Within this study, role identity theory enabled us to understand how individuals made meaning of their science and engineering experiences and identity. The primary methods for data collection were: pre-interview student questionnaires, phenomenological semi-structured interviews, and student reflective journals. The questionnaire was administered to gather basic demographic and background information about their educational experiences. Each participant completed 2 one-hour interviews. Participants completed bi-monthly (every other month) electronic reflective journal entries. Within their reflective journals, students described experiences and identity development.

The study found that SES shaped the ways in which community college students thought about their science and engineering identities, including their reasons for pursuing these majors and the assets that they believed they brought with them to these fields. Because students experienced financial hardship, they conceptualized science and engineering fields as a means for growing wealth for their families and being able to, through their role as a scientist or engineer, to also assume the role as provider for their families. The S-STEM scholarship and program provided a way in which community college students could nurture this identity development and move towards financial stability in the college-going process. Students also believed that they brought with them certain types of social capital as a result of their financial hardships during their youth that other science and engineering students did not. Rather than see this as a deficit, the community college students in this study believed that their background provided them a unique identity as a future scientist or engineer. However, these beliefs were tempered by the reality that despite getting a scholarship many of them still struggled to make ends meet and were forced to work which limited their ability to become fully immersed in their science and engineering identities.

Rodriguez, S., & Le, B., & Espino, M. L. (2020, June), “It's not about making money, but it kind of is about making money”: How Socio-economic Status Influences Science and Engineering Identity for Community College Students in an S-STEM Program Paper presented at 2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual On line . 10.18260/1-2--33970

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