Retention and persistence of STEM students at two year colleges continue to be a significant concerns. Numerous efforts have been initiated to increase the numbers and success of students majoring in STEM disciplines; however, factors influencing retention and persistence of STEM majors continue to be problematic.
One of the leading reasons for low STEM retention and persistence among non-traditional students at both the two-year and four-year colleges is an academic culture unwelcoming of women and minorities. Although many institutions have made strides in fostering success among underrepresented minorities (URMs) in STEM, studies indicated that the overall STEM academic culture at many institutions remain unwelcoming of URMs. For the two-year college STEM student, the unwelcoming STEM culture undermines their sense of identity and belonging which are fundamental to their retention and persistence in STEM disciplines.
In an effort to address the issue of low STEM retention and persistence rates at a 2-year institution, a STEM student support program was developed in Spring 2012 through National Science Foundation funding that provided activities to increase STEM student success. The program was designed to serve students with a minimum 2.8 grade point average, who were U.S. citizens, permanent resident aliens, or refugee aliens and majoring in a STEM field of study.
While working to increase STEM student success, different challenges and barriers to STEM degree attainment were discovered for native-born blacks (U.S. citizens) versus foreign-born blacks (permanent resident aliens) that had not been considered previously.
Many of the studies investigating the challenges and barriers of URMs in STEM aggregate native-born and foreign-born black students into a single category. However, despite sharing a racial minority status in the US, the challenges they face pursuing a STEM degree are often starkly different. There is a dearth of publications that examine challenges in STEM identity and belongingness that are germane to these two groups.
In this paper, we explore the differences and similarities of the two groups of students and report on the STEM student support activities that are most helpful in overcoming the barriers to STEM identity and belongingness and increasing retention, graduation, and transfer rates of both groups. Data was collected over a period of four years from evaluation surveys and student interviews and focus groups completed by program participants. All protocols included questions concerning STEM identity and STEM belonging. Results are based on feedback from students and comparisons of graduation and transfer rates between the two student populations participating in the program at this community college.
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