Minoritized Students In STEM Pathways at Community Colleges
Babcock, Michael Jason
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Community colleges are a prominent academic pathway for future scientists, engineers, and mathematicians, and serve as a gateway to higher education for traditionally marginalized student populations. Because of this, community colleges are uniquely positioned to combat the underrepresentation of African American, Latino/a, Native American, and Pacific Islander students in STEM. Research on students of color in STEM, however, has traditionally focused on K-12 schools and four-year colleges and universities, leaving a gap in our understanding about the role of community colleges in shaping student intentions to pursue STEM careers. To address that gap, this study examined students as they pursued a degree in STEM at a community college, for the purposes of contributing to our understandings of students of color in these environments. Utilizing science identity framing and longitudinal multi-case study methods, this study followed thirteen students as they navigated the community college and made decisions regarding their pursuit of a future in STEM fields. Specifically, this study illuminates the racialized nature of STEM at a community college, student thinking around choices to opt into or out of STEM, and the decision-making around choices to persist. Insight into the social and contextual factors underlying students’ persistence demonstrates that students of color (especially women of color) do encounter hostile experiences within STEM contexts at community colleges, but how they respond to those hostilities influences persistence. Students who attribute hostilities such as micro-aggressions to the biases of others are more likely to persist. Students who do not attribute those hostilities to others are more likely to assume their experiences are attributable to the fact they do not belong in STEM. The findings establish the importance of recognizing and acknowledging the racialized and gendered nature of STEM, both in academic settings and at home, for those working to find belonging in fields where they have traditionally been excluded.
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