2018 FYEE Conference

Full Paper: Exploring Issues Faced by Students in STEM Fields: First Year Focus and First Generation Focus

Presented at Technical Session I

West Virginia University Institute of Technology (WVU Tech) is a small school that heavily recruits from the local area that consists of very small towns and rural areas (historically Montgomery, WV and currently Beckley, WV). WVU Tech University currently does not have a specific first-year engineering program and is looking for ways to incorporate these concepts into the existing student services, STEM student organizations on campus, or integrating material into existing courses (or designing new courses). The goal of this paper is to identify and investigate the specific issues unique to first-generation STEM students, in particularly, first-generation students from very rural areas (population < 5,000). The authors collected anonymous data from a mixture of first-generation and non-first-generation undergraduate students enrolled at WVU Tech University during the Spring 2018 semester using a twenty-minute online survey (where students self-identify their first-generation status). The survey focused on high school background, areas that students feel they struggle with, issues they are having completing classwork (particularly in STEM courses), and perceived missing student services. Additionally, students were asked about their knowledge of college, their participation in the First-Generation Program and student organizations, and their perception of their support system, whether family, friends, or faculty and staff. Using the data collected, the authors will examine the emerging themes and make suggestions for possible actions for WVU Tech University to take within their STEM program and First-Generation Program to increase the number of STEM students completing their degrees, successfully recruiting more students into the STEM program, and increasing the number of first-generation students pursuing STEM majors. In an early examination of the data, the authors have found differences in the college experience of first-generation students who participate in the First-Generation Program and those who do not. The authors would like to incorporate some of the activities from the First-Generation Program into other programs to help other first-generation students.

  1. Dr. Stephany Coffman-Wolph University of Texas, Austin [biography]
  2. Dr. Kimberlyn Gray West Virginia University Institute of Technology [biography]
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