skip to main content

Title: Closing the doors of opportunity: A field theoretic analysis of the prevalence and nature of obstacles to college internships
Background: Internships for college students can enhance their grades, skills, and employment prospects, but finding and completing an internship sometimes requires considerable resources. Consequently, before postsecondary institutions consider mandating this high-impact practice, more evidence is needed regarding the various obstacles students face as they seek an internship. Focus of Study: The purpose of this study was to document the prevalence and nature of obstacles to securing a college internship and how these factors interact in the lives of particular students. Field theory is used to highlight the ways that structural inequalities and forms of capital serve to facilitate or constrain access to an internship experience. Population: The participants in this study included students attending five postsecondary institutions—three comprehensive universities, one historically Black college and university (HBCU), and one technical college in the U.S. states of Maryland, South Carolina, and Wisconsin. Research Design: This concurrent mixed-methods study included the collection of survey (n = 1,549) and focus group and interview (n = 100) data from students who self-selected into the study. Given that this is a descriptive study, the aim was to document student experiences with obstacles to internships using varied sources of data. Data Collection and Analysis: Data were collected more » via an online survey (with a 26% response rate) and in-person focus groups or interviews at each campus. Data were analyzed using inductive thematic analysis, social network analysis, and logistic regression techniques and interpreted in ways that highlight the situated and critical role of capital and structure in shaping opportunity and behavior. Findings: Among the 1,060 (69%) survey respondents who reported not having had an internship, 638 indicated that they had in fact wanted to pursue an internship but could not because of the need to work, a heavy course load, insufficient positions, and inadequate pay. The role of financial, social, and cultural capital also impacted students differentially depending on their majors, socioeconomic status, race, and geographic location, highlighting how context and enduring systemic forces—and not solely the possession of capital(s)—intersect to shape students’ abilities to pursue an internship. Conclusion: Internships are not universally accessible to all college students and instead favor students who have access to financial, social, and cultural capital while also being positioned in particular majors, geographic locations, and institutions. Before actively promoting internships for their students, colleges and universities should secure funding to support student pay and relocation costs, identify alternative forms of experiential learning for working students, and engage employers in creating more in-person and online positions for students across the disciplines. « less
Authors:
Award ID(s):
1920560
Publication Date:
NSF-PAR ID:
10331968
Journal Name:
Teachers College record
Volume:
123
Issue:
12
Page Range or eLocation-ID:
180-210
ISSN:
0040-0475
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. Need/Motivation (e.g., goals, gaps in knowledge) The ESTEEM implemented a STEM building capacity project through students’ early access to a sustainable and innovative STEM Stepping Stones, called Micro-Internships (MI). The goal is to reap key benefits of a full-length internship and undergraduate research experiences in an abbreviated format, including access, success, degree completion, transfer, and recruiting and retaining more Latinx and underrepresented students into the STEM workforce. The MIs are designed with the goals to provide opportunities for students at a community college and HSI, with authentic STEM research and applied learning experiences (ALE), support for appropriate STEM pathway/career, preparation and confidence to succeed in STEM and engage in summer long REUs, and with improved outcomes. The MI projects are accessible early to more students and build momentum to better overcome critical obstacles to success. The MIs are shorter, flexibly scheduled throughout the year, easily accessible, and participation in multiple MI is encouraged. ESTEEM also establishes a sustainable and collaborative model, working with partners from BSCS Science Education, for MI’s mentor, training, compliance, and building capacity, with shared values and practices to maximize the improvement of student outcomes. New Knowledge (e.g., hypothesis, research questions) Research indicates that REU/internship experiences canmore »be particularly powerful for students from Latinx and underrepresented groups in STEM. However, those experiences are difficult to access for many HSI-community college students (85% of our students hold off-campus jobs), and lack of confidence is a barrier for a majority of our students. The gap between those who can and those who cannot is the “internship access gap.” This project is at a central California Community College (CCC) and HSI, the only affordable post-secondary option in a region serving a historically underrepresented population in STEM, including 75% Hispanic, and 87% have not completed college. MI is designed to reduce inequalities inherent in the internship paradigm by providing access to professional and research skills for those underserved students. The MI has been designed to reduce barriers by offering: shorter duration (25 contact hours); flexible timing (one week to once a week over many weeks); open access/large group; and proximal location (on-campus). MI mentors participate in week-long summer workshops and ongoing monthly community of practice with the goal of co-constructing a shared vision, engaging in conversations about pedagogy and learning, and sustaining the MI program going forward. Approach (e.g., objectives/specific aims, research methodologies, and analysis) Research Question and Methodology: We want to know: How does participation in a micro-internship affect students’ interest and confidence to pursue STEM? We used a mixed-methods design triangulating quantitative Likert-style survey data with interpretive coding of open-responses to reveal themes in students’ motivations, attitudes toward STEM, and confidence. Participants: The study sampled students enrolled either part-time or full-time at the community college. Although each MI was classified within STEM, they were open to any interested student in any major. Demographically, participants self-identified as 70% Hispanic/Latinx, 13% Mixed-Race, and 42 female. Instrument: Student surveys were developed from two previously validated instruments that examine the impact of the MI intervention on student interest in STEM careers and pursuing internships/REUs. Also, the pre- and post (every e months to assess longitudinal outcomes) -surveys included relevant open response prompts. The surveys collected students’ demographics; interest, confidence, and motivation in pursuing a career in STEM; perceived obstacles; and past experiences with internships and MIs. 171 students responded to the pre-survey at the time of submission. Outcomes (e.g., preliminary findings, accomplishments to date) Because we just finished year 1, we lack at this time longitudinal data to reveal if student confidence is maintained over time and whether or not students are more likely to (i) enroll in more internships, (ii) transfer to a four-year university, or (iii) shorten the time it takes for degree attainment. For short term outcomes, students significantly Increased their confidence to continue pursuing opportunities to develop within the STEM pipeline, including full-length internships, completing STEM degrees, and applying for jobs in STEM. For example, using a 2-tailed t-test we compared means before and after the MI experience. 15 out of 16 questions that showed improvement in scores were related to student confidence to pursue STEM or perceived enjoyment of a STEM career. Finding from the free-response questions, showed that the majority of students reported enrolling in the MI to gain knowledge and experience. After the MI, 66% of students reported having gained valuable knowledge and experience, and 35% of students spoke about gaining confidence and/or momentum to pursue STEM as a career. Broader Impacts (e.g., the participation of underrepresented minorities in STEM; development of a diverse STEM workforce, enhanced infrastructure for research and education) The ESTEEM project has the potential for a transformational impact on STEM undergraduate education’s access and success for underrepresented and Latinx community college students, as well as for STEM capacity building at Hartnell College, a CCC and HSI, for students, faculty, professionals, and processes that foster research in STEM and education. Through sharing and transfer abilities of the ESTEEM model to similar institutions, the project has the potential to change the way students are served at an early and critical stage of their higher education experience at CCC, where one in every five community college student in the nation attends a CCC, over 67% of CCC students identify themselves with ethnic backgrounds that are not White, and 40 to 50% of University of California and California State University graduates in STEM started at a CCC, thus making it a key leverage point for recruiting and retaining a more diverse STEM workforce.« less
  2. Research has shown that student achievement is influenced by their access to, or possession of, various forms of capital. These forms of capital include financial capital, academic capital (prior academic preparation and access to academic support services), cultural capital (the attitudes, knowledge, and behaviors related to education which students are exposed to by members of their family or community), and social capital (the resources students have access to as a result of being members of groups or networks). For community college students, many with high financial need and the first in their families to go to college (especially those from underrepresented minority groups), developing programs to increase access to these various forms of capital is critical to their success. This paper describes how a small federally designated Hispanic-serving community college has developed a scholarship program for financially needy community college students intending to transfer to a four-year institution to pursue a bachelor’s degree in a STEM field. Developed through a National Science Foundation Scholarships in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (S-STEM) grant, the program involves a collaboration among STEM faculty, college staff, administrators, student organizations, and partners in industry, four-year institutions, local high schools, and professional organizations. In addition tomore »providing financial support through the scholarships, student access to academic capital is increased through an intensive math review program, tutoring, study groups, supplemental instruction, and research internship opportunities. Access to cultural and social capital is increased by providing scholars with faculty mentors; engaging students with STEM faculty, university researchers, and industry professionals through field trips, summer internships, professional organizations, and student clubs; supporting student and faculty participation at professional conferences, and providing opportunities for students and their families to interact with faculty and staff. The paper details the development of the program, and its impact over the last five years on enhancing the success of STEM students as determined from data on student participation in various program activities, student attitudinal and self-efficacy surveys, and academic performance including persistence, retention, transfer and graduation.« less
  3. Broadening participation in engineering is critical given the gap between the nation’s need for engineering graduates and its production of them. Efforts to spark interest in engineering among PreK-12 students have increased substantially in recent years as a result. However, past research has demonstrated that interest is not always sufficient to help students pursue engineering majors, particularly for rural students. In many rural communities, influential adults (family, friends, teachers) are often the primary influence on career choice, while factors such as community values, lack of social and cultural capital, limited course availability, and inadequate financial resources act as potential barriers. To account for these contextual factors, this project shifts the focus from individual students to the communities to understand how key stakeholders and organizations support engineering as a major choice and addresses the following questions: RQ1. What do current undergraduate engineering students who graduated from rural high schools describe as influences on their choice to attend college and pursue engineering as a post-secondary major? RQ2. How does the college choice process differ for rural students who enrolled in a 4-year university immediately after graduating from high school and those who transferred from a 2-year institution? RQ3. How do community membersmore »describe the resources that serve as key supports as well as the barriers that hinder support in their community? RQ4. What strategies do community members perceive their community should implement to enhance their ability to support engineering as a potential career choice? RQ5. How are these supports transferable or adaptable by other schools? What community-level factors support or inhibit transfer and adaptation? To answer the research questions, we employed a three-phase qualitative study. Phase 1 focused on understanding the experiences and perceptions of current [University Name] students from higher-producing rural schools. Analysis of focus group and interview data with 52 students highlighted the importance of interest and support from influential adults in students’ decision to major in engineering. One key finding from this phase was the importance of community college for many of our participants. Transfer students who attended community college before enrolling at [University Name] discussed the financial influences on their decision and the benefits of higher education much more frequently than their peers. In Phase 2, we used the findings from Phase 1 to conduct interviews within the participants’ home communities. This phase helped triangulate students’ perceptions with the perceptions and practices of others, and, equally importantly, allowed us to understand the goals, attitudes, and experiences of school personnel and local community members as they work with students. Participants from the students’ home communities indicated that there were few opportunities for students to learn more about engineering careers and provided suggestions for how colleges and universities could be more involved with students from their community. Phase 3, scheduled for Spring 2020, will bring the findings from Phases 1 and 2 back to rural communities via two participatory design workshops. These workshops, designed to share our findings and foster collaborative dialogue among the participants, will enable us to explore factors that support or hinder transfer of findings and to identify policies and strategies that would enhance each community’s ability to support engineering as a potential career choice.« less
  4. There is a critical need for more students with engineering and computer science majors to enter into, persist in, and graduate from four-year postsecondary institutions. Increasing the diversity of the workforce by inclusive practices in engineering and science is also a profound identified need. According to national statistics, the largest groups of underrepresented minority students in engineering and science attend U.S. public higher education institutions. Most often, a large proportion of these students come to colleges and universities with unique challenges and needs, and are more likely to be first in their family to attend college. In response to these needs, engineering education researchers and practitioners have developed, implemented and assessed interventions to provide support and help students succeed in college, particularly in their first year. These interventions typically target relatively small cohorts of students and can be managed by a small number of faculty and staff. In this paper, we report on “work in progress” research in a large-scale, first-year engineering and computer science intervention program at a public, comprehensive university using multivariate comparative statistical approaches. Large-scale intervention programs are especially relevant to minority serving institutions that prepare growing numbers of students who are first in their family tomore »attend college and who are also under-resourced, financially. These students most often encounter academic difficulties and come to higher education with challenging experiences and backgrounds. Our studied first-year intervention program, first piloted in 2015, is now in its 5th year of implementation. Its intervention components include: (a) first-year block schedules, (b) project-based introductory engineering and computer science courses, (c) an introduction to mechanics course, which provides students with the foundation needed to succeed in a traditional physics sequence, and (d) peer-led supplemental instruction workshops for calculus, physics and chemistry courses. This intervention study responds to three research questions: (1) What role does the first-year intervention’s components play in students’ persistence in engineering and computer science majors across undergraduate program years? (2) What role do particular pedagogical and cocurricular support structures play in students’ successes? And (3) What role do various student socio-demographic and experiential factors play in the effectiveness of first-year interventions? To address these research questions and therefore determine the formative impact of the firstyear engineering and computer science program on which we are conducting research, we have collected diverse student data including grade point averages, concept inventory scores, and data from a multi-dimensional questionnaire that measures students’ use of support practices across their four to five years in their degree program, and diverse background information necessary to determine the impact of such factors on students’ persistence to degree. Background data includes students’ experiences prior to enrolling in college, their socio-demographic characteristics, and their college social capital throughout their higher education experience. For this research, we compared students who were enrolled in the first-year intervention program to those who were not enrolled in the first-year intervention. We have engaged in cross-sectional 2 data collection from students’ freshman through senior years and employed multivariate statistical analytical techniques on the collected student data. Results of these analyses were interesting and diverse. Generally, in terms of backgrounds, our research indicates that students’ parental education is positively related to their success in engineering and computer science across program years. Likewise, longitudinally (across program years), students’ college social capital predicted their academic success and persistence to degree. With regard to the study’s comparative research of the first-year intervention, our results indicate that students who were enrolled in the first-year intervention program as freshmen continued to use more support practices to assist them in academic success across their degree matriculation compared to students who were not in the first-year program. This suggests that the students continued to recognize the value of such supports as a consequence of having supports required as first-year students. In terms of students’ understanding of scientific or engineering-focused concepts, we found significant impact resulting from student support practices that were academically focused. We also found that enrolling in the first-year intervention was a significant predictor of the time that students spent preparing for classes and ultimately their grade point average, especially in STEM subjects across students’ years in college. In summary, we found that the studied first-year intervention program has longitudinal, positive impacts on students’ success as they navigate through their undergraduate experiences toward engineering and computer science degrees.« less
  5. In response to the well-documented themes of unique challenges URM doctoral student experience (tokenism, stereotyping, microaggressions, etc.), faculty mentoring remains an especially critical resource to change the trajectory for URM students in graduate education. The purpose of this study is to examine the first two years of change in institutional culture which will increase the number of URM doctoral students who pursue the STEM professoriate. The primary research question asked is “Can a focus on developing and mentoring faculty catalyze change in the culture and practices of their doctoral programs to increase faculty diversity?” Based on the idea that faculty are drivers of lasting institutional change, three diverse public universities collaborate to adapt and implement an institutional change project, called “AGEP-NC Alliance: A Change Model for Doctoral to Faculty Diversity in STEM,” that prioritizes cultural frameworks for deep change in postsecondary education (Gumpertz et al., 2019). Key model components include faculty learning communities; use of national faculty mentoring networks; and use of institutional diversity data. Culturally relevant mentoring is among several approaches of interest to STEM reformers to shift the focus to institutional-level change and not student deficiencies. Operationalized as “cultural integrity,” the approach calls upon students’ racial and ethnicmore »backgrounds as assets for reform in pedagogies and learning activities, while valuing those backgrounds as critical ingredients for acquiring academic capital and career success (Tierney, 1999). Kezar’s (2018) cultural framework for institutional change emphasizes knowledge formation in context as well as analysis of espoused meaning and values organizational members maintain. The researchers present the AGEP-NC Alliance as a narrative, rich case study and collaborative mentoring model, an approach allowing participant researchers to detail sustained data use in collaborative social interaction (Patton, 1990). Results will be shared that highlight faculty as cultural change agents, and organizational learning as a cultural process. Preliminary results show evidence of institutional change at several levels from classroom and laboratory practices to key departmental policies.« less