Cultivating STEM Identity & Belonging through Civic Engagement: Increasing Student Success (Self-Efficacy and Persistence) in the Two-year college STEM student
Retention efforts in the first two years of college have become a focal point and cost effective strategy of most colleges and universities for increasing the overall number of STEM graduates.
Two-year college STEM students are particularly affected by factors that contribute to low retention and persistence, as this population is more burdened by external circumstances such as work and family obligations than the traditional four-year student population, and thus less likely to be able to fully engage in the STEM experience.
To address the STEM retention/persistence rates at a two-year institution, a STEM student support program was developed in Spring 2012 through National Science Foundation funding that provided activities (undergraduate research and civic engagement) to increase STEM student success at the two-year college. These activities seek to cultivate an increased sense of STEM identity and belonging, thereby increasing self-efficacy and persistence.
Research regarding the benefits of undergraduate research for two-year college STEM student is rather limited. Even fewer publications explain the benefits of civic engagement activities for two-year college STEM students.
Civic engagement is defined in this project as an activity whereby participants learn how to use their STEM knowledge and skills for community betterment. Students who engage in their community in this way cultivate cultural competency, communication skills, and critical thinking ability, and have opportunities for reflective thinking and knowledge application.
In this paper, we discuss the effects of student participation in STEM Civic Engagement Activities on student success.
Participants were required to engage in 10+ hours of STEM civic engagement each semester. Examples of STEM civic engagement activities included tutoring remedial collegiate math, volunteering with LEGO League, volunteering with the city-wide science festival, etc.
Data was collected over a period of four years from evaluation surveys and student interviews completed by program participants. The surveys and interview protocols included questions concerning STEM identity and STEM belonging as a result of participating in civic engagement activities.
We note that participating two-year college STEM students have been able to cultivate a sense of STEM identity and belonging, and graduation and transfer rates increased as a result of their increased community engagement. Self-efficacy and persistence were also determined as outcomes of participation in civic engagement activities.
The STEM student support program (STEP) developed in Spring 2012 through National Science Foundation funding has significantly impacted the culture at Georgia Perimeter College (GPC). GPC STEP is a comprehensive program which includes undergraduate and civic engagement activities and has yielded successful results in retention, persistence and graduation/transfer rates for STEM two-year college students. Results from student focus groups and surveys show participation in undergraduate research and civic engagement activities to cultivate a sense of STEM identity and belonging and strongly influence self-efficacy and persistence. To date, more than 100 program participants have graduated/transferred to a four-year institution. Upon transfer, 95% of these participants have remained in the STEM pipeline working toward a baccalaureate degree.
The Culture of Georgia Perimeter College: Most of the challenges have been due to the ﾓcultureﾔ of GPC, i.e. room utilization policies, misconceptions and ignorance of Supplemental Instruction, transfer vs. graduation, and participation in undergraduate research experiences. The GPC STEP Team consistently works to change the ﾓcultureﾔ of GPC. As it regards to the areas of room utilization and Supplemental Instruction, the Team has placed more emphasis on publicizing SI and training of SI Leaders and Faculty involved with SI. The Team has also met with GPC Space -Room Utilization staff so they too have a better understanding of SI.
The Team has also had to work with students to understand the difference in ﾓgraduation then transfer vs. transfer onlyﾔ. It has been a very slow culture change, but the numbers in year 3 and 4 reflected the mindset change.
Pamela M. Leggett-Robinson, Suazette Mooring, and Brandi Villa (2015). A 3+8 Model of Undergraduate Reserach for Community College STEM Majors. Journal of College Science Teaching, 44 (4), 12-18.