This research paper presents findings from a narrative qualitative research study conducted with 14 nontraditional undergraduates (14 white; 13 male 1 female) enrolled in a 2-year engineering transfer program. The engineering transfer program was offered by a four-year, public land grant institution, located in the western United States, to provide an alternative pathway to engineering degrees for geographically dispersed students located throughout the state. Nontraditional undergraduates comprise a growing population within U.S. higher education who, based on age-, education-, and socioeconomic-related factors, do not fit within the grand narrative of the “traditional” college undergraduate. Nontraditional undergraduates include those who delay college entry, attend college part-time, work full-time, financially support themselves and/or dependents, are single parents, and/or become eligible to attend college via credentials considered equivalent to earning a high school diploma (i.e., General Education Development or GED). In addition, many nontraditional students share intersecting identities with other gender, racial, and ethnic groups that are underrepresented in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education.
Based upon national recognition that nontraditional students possess untapped potential to strengthen and diversify the engineering workforce, the purpose of this qualitative research study was to examine the lived experience of nontraditional students engaged along alternative pathways to engineering degrees. Providing new understandings of how nontraditional students made sense of their engineering education experiences, this work reports on the ways nontraditional engineering students narratively described their success in the context of the two-year transfer program. Findings revealed that participants’ views of success included common measures of academic success in engineering; they also reflected participants’ longer-term career goals and financial plans. Findings have implications for the development of robust engineering pathways at both 2- and 4- year institutions.
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