skip to main content


Title: A case study approach to understanding a remote undergraduate research program
Due to the growing concerns surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, colleges and universities either canceled or remotely hosted their 2020 National Science Foundation Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) programs. This analysis is part of a larger study examining the impact of these fully remote experiences on professional and psychosocial factors such as mentees' sense of belonging, identity, and self-efficacy and their retention in STEM degree programs. We present a single-student case study and describe the dramaturgical analysis which centers on identifying five fundamental constructs within the data: objectives, conflicts, tactics, attitudes, and emotions. These items investigate what the participant in the remote REU program experienced and how this experience changed the ways in which he thinks about his future career decision-making. Our analysis explored four different sub-narratives: lack of community in virtual REU, mentor support, perception of the "real" nature of the experience in a virtual format, and future career decision-making. The mentee reported that this experience was highly beneficial and that he developed a sense of belonging and identity, despite working remotely -- often from his own bedroom.  more » « less
Award ID(s):
1846321
NSF-PAR ID:
10323337
Author(s) / Creator(s):
;
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Physics Education Research Conference 2021
Format(s):
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. There are significant disparities between the conferring of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) bachelor’s degrees to minoritized groups and the number of STEM faculty that represent minoritized groups at four-year predominantly White institutions (PWIs). Studies show that as of 2019, African American faculty at PWIs have increased by only 2.3% in the last 20 years. This study explores the ways in which this imbalance affects minoritized students in engineering majors. Our research objective is to describe the ways in which African American students navigate their way to success in an engineering program at a PWI where the minoritized faculty representation is less than 10%. In this study, we define success as completion of an undergraduate degree and matriculation into a Ph.D. program. Research shows that African American students struggle with feeling like the “outsider within” in graduate programs and that the engineering culture can permeate from undergraduate to graduate programs. We address our research objective by conducting interviews using navigational capital as our theoretical framework, which can be defined as resilience, academic invulnerability, and skills. These three concepts come together to denote the journey of an individual as they achieve success in an environment not created with them in mind. Navigational capital has been applied in education contexts to study minoritized groups, and specifically in engineering education to study the persistence of students of color. Research on navigational capital often focuses on how participants acquire resources from others. There is a limited focus on the experience of the student as the individual agent exercising their own navigational capital. Drawing from and adapting the framework of navigational capital, this study provides rich descriptions of the lived experiences of African American students in an engineering program at a PWI as they navigated their way to academic success in a system that was not designed with them in mind. This pilot study took place at a research-intensive, land grant PWI in the southeastern United States. We recruited two students who identify as African American and are in the first year of their Ph.D. program in an engineering major. Our interview protocol was adapted from a related study about student motivation, identity, and sense of belonging in engineering. After transcribing interviews with these participants, we began our qualitative analysis with a priori coding, drawing from the framework of navigational capital, to identify the experiences, connections, involvement, and resources the participants tapped into as they maneuvered their way to success in an undergraduate engineering program at a PWI. To identify other aspects of the participants’ experiences that were not reflected in that framework, we also used open coding. The results showed that the participants tapped into their navigational capital when they used experiences, connections, involvement, and resources to be resilient, academically invulnerable, and skillful. They learned from experiences (theirs or others’), capitalized on their connections, positioned themselves through involvement, and used their resources to achieve success in their engineering program. The participants identified their experiences, connections, and involvement. For example, one participant who came from a blended family (African American and White) drew from the experiences she had with her blended family. Her experiences helped her to understand the cultures of Black and White people. She was able to turn that into a skill to connect with others at her PWI. The point at which she took her familial experiences to use as a skill to maneuver her way to success at a PWI was an example of her navigational capital. Another participant capitalized on his connections to develop academic invulnerability. He was able to build his connections by making meaningful relationships with his classmates. He knew the importance of having reliable people to be there for him when he encountered a topic he did not understand. He cultivated an environment through relationships with classmates that set him up to achieve academic invulnerability in his classes. The participants spoke least about how they used their resources. The few mentions of resources were not distinct enough to make any substantial connection to the factors that denote navigational capital. The participants spoke explicitly about the PWI culture in their engineering department. From open coding, we identified the theme that participants did not expect to have role models in their major that looked like them and went into their undergraduate experience with the understanding that they will be the distinct minority in their classes. They did not make notable mention of how a lack of minority faculty affected their success. Upon acceptance, they took on the challenge of being a racial minority in exchange for a well-recognized degree they felt would have more value compared to engineering programs at other universities. They identified ways they maneuvered around their expectation that they would not have representative role models through their use of navigational capital. Integrating knowledge from the framework of navigational capital and its existing applications in engineering and education allows us the opportunity to learn from African American students that have succeeded in engineering programs with low minority faculty representation. The future directions of this work are to outline strategies that could enhance the path of minoritized engineering students towards success and to lay a foundation for understanding the use of navigational capital by minoritized students in engineering at PWIs. Students at PWIs can benefit from understanding their own navigational capital to help them identify ways to successfully navigate educational institutions. Students’ awareness of their capacity to maintain high levels of achievement, their connections to networks that facilitate navigation, and their ability to draw from experiences to enhance resilience provide them with the agency to unleash the invisible factors of their potential to be innovators in their collegiate and work environments. 
    more » « less
  2. Opportunities for undergraduate research in STEM programs at community colleges can be few where lower-division science curriculum emphasizes classroom and laboratory-based learning and research laboratories are limited in number. This is particularly true in the geosciences where specialized programs are extremely rare. Urban serving academic research institutions have a unique role and opportunity to partner with regional community college programs for undergraduate research early-on in student post-secondary educational experiences. Programs built for community college transfer students to urban serving undergraduate programs can serve to integrate students into major programs and help reduce transfer shock. The benefits of exploring research as an undergraduate scholar are numerous and include: building towards mastery of technical skills; developing problem-solving in a real-world environment; reading and digesting scientific literature; analyzing experimental and simulation data; working independently and as part of a team; developing a mentoring relationship with a research advisor; and building a sense of belonging and confidence in a scientific field. However, many undergraduate research internships are targeted towards junior-level STEM majors already engaged in upper-division coursework and considering graduate school which effectively excludes community college students from participating. The Center for Climate and Aerosol Research (CCAR) Research Experience for Undergraduate program at Portland State University serves to help build the future diverse research community. 10-week intern research experiences are paired with an expert faculty mentor are designed for students majoring in the natural/physical sciences but not necessarily with a background in climate or atmospheric science. Additional programmatic activities include: 1-week orientation and training using short courses, faculty research seminars, and hands-on group workshops; academic professional and career development workshops throughout summer; journal club activities; final presentations at end of summer CCAR symposium; opportunities for travel for student presentations at scientific conferences; and social activities. Open to all qualifying undergraduates, since 2014 the program recruits primarily from regional (Northwest) community colleges, rural schools, and Native American serving institutions; recruiting students who would be unlikely to be otherwise exposed to such opportunities at their home institution. Over the past 9 cohorts of REU interns (2014-2019), approximately one third of CCAR REU scholars are community colleges students. Here we present criteria employed for selection of REU scholars and an analysis of selection biases in a comparison of students from community colleges, 4-year colleges, and PhD granting universities. We further investigate differential outcomes in efficacy of the REU program using evaluation data to assess changes over the program including: knowledge, intrinsic motivation, extrinsic motivation, science identity, program satisfaction, and career aspirations. In this presentation, we present these findings along with supportive qualitative analyses and discuss their implications for community college students in undergraduate research programs in geosciences. 
    more » « less
  3. null (Ed.)
    In recent years, studies in engineering education have begun to intentionally integrate disability into discussions of diversity, inclusion, and equity. To broaden and advocate for the participation of this group in engineering, researchers have identified a variety of factors that have kept people with disabilities at the margins of the field. Such factors include the underrepresentation of disabled individuals within research and industry; systemic and personal barriers, and sociocultural expectations within and beyond engineering education-related contexts. These findings provide a foundational understanding of the external and environmental influences that can shape how students with disabilities experience higher education, develop a sense of belonging, and ultimately form professional identities as engineers. Prior work examining the intersections of disability identity and professional identity is limited, with little to no studies examining the ways in which students conceptualize, define, and interpret disability as a category of identity during their undergraduate engineering experience. This lack of research poses problems for recruitment, retention, and inclusion, particularly as existing studies have shown that the ways in which students perceive and define themselves in relation to their college major is crucial for the development of a professional engineering identity. Further, due to variation in defining ‘disability’ across national agencies (e.g., the National Institutes of Health, and the Department of Justice) and disability communities (with different models of disability), the term “disability” is broad and often misunderstood, frequently referring to a group of individuals with a wide range of conditions and experiences. Therefore, the purpose of this study is to gain deeper insights into the ways students define disability and disability identity within their own contexts as they develop professional identities. Specifically, we ask the following research question: How do students describe and conceptualize non-apparent disabilities? To answer this research question, we draw from emergent findings from an on-going grounded theory exploration of professional identity formation of undergraduate civil engineering students with disabilities. In this paper, we focus our discussion on the grounded theory analyses of 4 semi-structured interviews with participants who have disclosed a non-apparent disability. Study participants consist of students currently enrolled in undergraduate civil engineering programs, students who were initially enrolled in undergraduate civil engineering programs and transferred to another major, and students who have recently graduated from a civil engineering program within the past year. Sensitizing concepts emerged as findings from the initial grounded theory analysis to guide and initiate our inquiry: 1) the medical model of disability, 2) the social model of disability, and 3) personal experience. First, medical models of disability position physical, cognitive, and developmental difference as a “sickness” or “condition” that must be “treated”. From this perspective, disability is perceived as an impairment that must be accommodated so that individuals can obtain a dominantly-accepted sense of normality. An example of medical models within the education context include accommodations procedures in which students must obtain an official diagnosis in order to access tools necessary for academic success. Second, social models of disability position disability as a dynamic and fluid identity that consists of a variety of physical, cognitive, or developmental differences. Dissenting from assumptions of normality and the focus on individual bodily conditions (hallmarks of the medical model), the social model focuses on the political and social structures that inherently create or construct disability. An example of a social model within the education context includes the universal design of materials and tools that are accessible to all students within a given course. In these instances, students are not required to request accommodations and may, consequently, bypass medical diagnoses. Lastly, participants referred to their own life experiences as a way to define, describe, and consider disability. Fernando considers his stutter to be a disability because he is often interrupted, spoken over, or silenced when engaging with others. In turn, he is perceived as unintelligent and unfit to be a civil engineer by his peers. In contrast, David, who identifies as autistic, does not consider himself to be disabled. These experiences highlight the complex intersections of medical and social models of disability and their contextual influences as participants navigate their lives. While these sensitizing concepts are not meant to scope the research, they provide a useful lens for initiating research and provides markers on which a deeper, emergent analysis is expanded. Findings from this work will be used to further explore the professional identity formation of undergraduate civil engineering students with disabilities. These findings will provide engineering education researchers and practitioners with insights regarding the ways individuals with disabilities interpret their in- and out-of-classroom experiences and navigate their disability identities. For higher education, broadly, this work aims to reinforce the complex and diverse nature of disability experience and identity, particularly as it relates to accommodations and accessibility within the classroom, and expand the inclusiveness of our programs and institutions. 
    more » « less
  4. The development of inclusive leaders is essential for the success of future engineering and our nation. Equipping students with vital leadership-enabling competencies is necessary to develop a workforce that is prepared to act ethically, and responsibly, and tackle unforeseen challenges in the future. Inclusive leaders, or leaders that are self-aware, empathetic, and prioritize diversity, equity, and inclusion in their decision-making, are essential for the forward progress of engineering. A growing body of literature highlights the numerous ways in which students may develop leadership skills outside of the classroom through involvement in out-of-class activities (e.g., internships, clubs, sports, and research experiences). Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REUs) may provide students with a unique opportunity to develop leadership-enabling competencies that will prepare them for leadership in graduate school, the engineering industry, or academia. The goal of this research was to identify how students’ engagement in an engineering education virtual REU site contributed to their development of essential leadership-enabling competencies. The research question guiding this study was ‘What inclusive leadership-enabling competencies and skills did engineering students learn and develop during an engineering education Summer REU program?’ Qualitative data was collected via weekly open-ended surveys from 9 students (7 women, 2 men) participating in an REU over 9 weeks. Participants in this study consisted of students from underrepresented groups in engineering (e.g., Black, Latinx, women, students from low SES backgrounds, or first-generation students), attending large public research universities across the United States. This study implemented mixed methods to understand what leadership competencies were occurring most frequently and how students were learning and developing these competencies. A combination of text mining for frequency (quantitative analysis) and deductive and inductive coding (qualitative analysis) was used to analyze the data. A codebook was developed based on the leadership-coupled professional competencies that engineering industry leaders identified as essential for engineers entering the workforce. Researchers also allowed for other competencies and leadership-enabling skills to emerge from the data. Findings from this work indicate that students were developing a vast amount of inclusive leadership knowledge and skills from participating in the virtual REU site. This paper highlights, through the use of word clouds and text mining software, the many leadership-enabling competencies that participants developed throughout the summer research experience (e.g., learning, communication, adaptability, self-awareness, balance, networking, etc.). Further, students were able to develop digital literacy, increased communication skills, knowledge of career pathways, intrapersonal growth, and interpersonal relations. This work offers a novel contribution to the literature in understanding how students can develop technical engineering and research skills as well as professional and leadership skills in the same space. Findings from this work help to illuminate the benefits of this virtual REU site focused on engineering education research resulting in terms of developing inclusive leadership skills. Implications for future REU programs, students interested in developing leadership skills, engineering graduate programs, academia, and industry employers are outlined. 
    more » « less
  5. Vasconcelos, Sonia (Ed.)

    Undergraduate research experiences benefit students by immersing them in the work of scientists and often result in increased interest and commitment to careers in the sciences. Expanding access to Research Experience for Undergraduate (REU) programs has the potential to engage more students in authentic research experiences earlier in their academic careers and grow and diversify the geoscience workforce. The Research Experience for Community College Students (RECCS) was one of the first National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded REU programs exclusively for 2-year college students. In this study, we describe findings from five years of the RECCS program and report on outcomes from 54 students. The study collected closed- and open-ended responses on post-program reflection surveys to analyze both student and mentor perspectives on their experience. Specifically, we focus on students’ self-reported growth in areas such as research skills, confidence in their ability to do research, and belonging in the field, as well as the mentors’ assessment of students’ work and areas of growth, and the impact of the program on students’ academic and career paths. In addition, RECCS alumni were surveyed annually to update data on their academic and career pursuits. Our data show that RECCS students learned scientific and professional skills throughout the program, developed a sense of identity as a scientist, and increased their interest in and excitement for graduate school after the program. Through this research experience, students gained confidence in their ability to “do” science and insight into whether this path is a good fit for them. This study contributes to an emerging body of data examining the impact of REU programs on community college students and encourages geoscience REU programs to welcome and support more community college students.

     
    more » « less