Pathways to fast tracking African American community college students to STEM careers
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The United States is currently facing a shortage of qualified Science Technology Engineering & Mathematics workers. As a result, many STEM jobs are being filled by technically-skilled foreign workers. American institutions of higher education, including community colleges, must identify potential factors that contribute to the lack of interest in STEM majors, as well as the low rate of success of students who enter STEM majors but struggle to finish their degrees. Community colleges perform a larger share of STEM training than is generally understood. As highlighted in the National Science Foundation’s National Survey of Recent College Graduates, a surprisingly large proportion (44% overall) of those earning a degree in science and engineering (bachelor’s and master’s) reported that they had attended a community college. The purpose of this study was to ascertain the perceptions of African American community college students who are currently pursuing degrees in STEM majors and to examine the factors that influence their success. Qualitative research method of in-depth phenomenological interviewing was used for this study. This tool provided a strong method of scientific inquiry for understanding the context of the lives of successful African American students in STEM majors. Findings in this study have African American students identifying the meanings of the experiences of participating in a STEM workforce development program at Minneapolis Community and Technical College. They found the experience of Prioritizing to be the most crucial for them as they prepared for their STEM careers. Students consider Professionalism, Building a Network, Internships & Planning. Students also found advisors to be essential to their overall academic success. Furthermore, faculty members can make a difference in how students perceive their academic journey and how well they perform academically. These findings are also supported by Astin’s theory of student involvement, Ladson-Billings Cultural Relevant Pedagogy and Validation. Many community colleges are in urban areas and serve a very diverse population of students. This study can inform our faculty on best practices to prepare lecture materials, through providing cultural relevant pedagogy that addresses issues African American students are currently facing, which make their academic journey significant. When the academic coursework is applicable to real world situations students reported an easier transition to STEM workforce industries.