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In addition to advancing scientific knowledge, NSF Engineering Research Centers (ERC) have a primary focus on Engineering Workforce Development. Indeed, the number of STEM jobs is growing faster than non-STEM jobs with projected shortages of up to 3.5 million STEM workers in the United States by 2025. Additionally, it is important to note the lack of diversity within the engineering profession; female students and students of color remain underrepresented in STEM majors and STEM careers. For example, people of color represent 27 percent of the adult population but only 11 percent of STEM professionals. Thus, our goal as an ERC is to promote STEM pathways that both increase and diversify the pool of students seeking STEM careers. A growing body of research has shown that STEM interest, attitude, and identity serve as predictors of sustained pursuit in the STEM disciplines rather than academic performance in STEM coursework. Furthermore, identity research has shown that students who show interest and enjoyment in STEM do not necessarily see themselves pursuing a STEM future career; this is especially true for students from historically underrepresented minorities within STEM. Thus, the work within our ERC is grounded in identity as a theoretical framework. STEM identity is conceptualized as the ability to see oneself in one of the STEM fields and to identify with the identity roles involved in the position. We drew on Carlone and Jonhson’s model of science identity which includes three interrelated dimensions: competence, performance, and recognition. This study reports on an exploration of STEM identity development with our ERC REU (Research Experiences for Undergraduates) program. This hybrid REU program was a ten-week experience with REUs placed at two geographically distant ERC sites. Ten participants were recruited, all of whom were from groups under-represented in STEM and for whom this was their first research experience. Due to the pandemic, half of the participants had an in-person laboratory experience and the other half a virtual research experience. Weekly seminars and professional development workshops were conducted online to allow participation of all REUs. Given that our goal was to understand identity development, we collected data throughout the REU program. Our primary data sources were weekly pulse surveys and bi-weekly check-in interviews. Using the STEM identity framework, we looked for patterns in the data (both by individual REUs and across all REUs). Feelings of competence shifted over the course of the REU, with students initially feeling a lack of competence. REUs talked about having to become comfortable with asking for help and understanding that it was normal to have questions. Given the focus on research, performance was central to the REUs’ identity development. Students had to learn a lot of new laboratory skills and as scaffolding from mentors was removed, they had to develop confidence in performing procedures independently. Recognition was critical to all REUs, but most important to students of color. While white female REUs started the summer with a strong self-recognition as a “science person” this was not the case for students of color.
Roehrig, G., & Gonsar, N., & Haugh Nowariak, A. (2022, August), STEM Identity Development for Under-represented Students in a Research Experience for Undergraduates Paper presented at 2022 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Minneapolis, MN. https://peer.asee.org/41992
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