Student veterans and service members (SVSM) represent a significant, yet vastly underutilized, human resource for strengthening and diversifying the nation’s science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) workforce. It is estimated that, by the year 2020, over 5 million post 9/11 service members will have transitioned out of the U. S. Armed Forces. Yet, despite advanced technical skills and training and access to unprecedented levels of educational benefits, today’s military veterans make up small fraction of U.S. college undergraduates and only 1 in 5 enrolled veterans pursue a STEM-related degree.
While STEM education research with SVSM continues to grow, much about the college experiences of SVSM remains unclear. Moreover, scholars point to unique challenges and limitations associated with conducting SVSM research that hinder deeper understandings of SVSM experience in higher education. Challenges include identifying and gaining access to SVSM participants, interpreting SVSM data without the insights afforded by personal military experience, and unpacking SVSM experiences that often exist at the intersection of multiple identities underserved in STEM (i.e., gender, nontraditional, first generation, underrepresented minority, disabled, etc.). These challenges illustrate not only an obligation to conduct more SVSM research, but also a need to push at the current boundaries of SVSM research for the purposes of deepening the practical as well as theoretical impact of its findings.
One way to advance SVSM research within the context of engineering education is through a broad(er) application of available theoretical perspectives and research methodologies, particularly those developed within the research traditions of other professionally oriented fields (e.g., teacher education, medicine). The purpose of this work in progress paper is to present for discussion a promising approach for researching alongside SVSM in engineering education called ‘Narrative Inquiry’. Narrative Inquiry (NI) emerged as a distinct form of narrative qualitative research within the field of teacher education in the 1990s. During NI, researcher and participant engage in transactional relation over time to derive meaning from experience through examination of shared stories. In the current work, I am using NI to study the experiences of Cooper (self-selected pseudonym), a SVSM studying engineering. In this paper, I discuss the NI methodology and preliminary findings related to stores of experience that Cooper shared. Narrative excerpts are presented and discussed in order to highlight the utility of NI for supporting contextualized interpretation of SVSM experience within engineering education.
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