The influence of policy implementation in the Midwest: How an SSTEM program broadens participation and enhances engineering identity for community college students




qualitative research, STEM Education, community colleges, engineering, identity, policy


This qualitative research study describes how a Midwest community college’s implementation of an Scholarships in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (SSTEM) program influences engineering identity development for its students with financial need. Using a phenomenological approach, the study finds that the program enables community college students to have greater financial freedom and an ability to focus on engineering identity. In addition, the SSTEM program enhances student connections with STEM faculty, program staff, and peers. The study highlights the need for creating spaces for engineering identity development, developing connections between faculty, staff, and students, and enhancing transfer connections through different experiences. Future research might look to longitudinal designs and investigate additional contexts, engineering disciplines, gender differences, and programmatic structures to add nuance to these findings. The study suggests that practitioners might frame SSTEM and engineering experiences as opportunities for financial freedom and identity development and make further enhancements to transfer connections to four-year institutional partners. In terms of policy, the study suggests that policymakers consider identity development experiences an important aspect of funding SSTEM programs while enhancing programmatic support services available to students and placing greater emphasis on the collaborative actions, planned activities, and power dynamics between two- and four-year institutions funded by the SSTEM program.


Download data is not yet available.

Author Biographies

Sarah L. Rodriguez, Texas A&M University - Commerce

Sarah L. Rodriguez is an associate professor of higher education & learning technologies at Texas A&M University – Commerce. Dr. Rodriguez's research addresses issues of equity, access, and retention in higher education, with a focus on community colleges, Latina/o/x students, and students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. Currently, Dr. Rodriguez is involved with several large-scale interdisciplinary research projects focused on the institutional environments and STEM identity development sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Kapor Center. To learn more about her current projects, visit

Maria L. Espino, Iowa State University

Maria L. Espino is a doctoral student within Higher Education Program within the School of Education at Iowa State University. Her scholarship broadly encompasses experiences of first-generation, low-income, marginalized college students in community colleges and four-year institutions. She focuses on students’ access, retention, success and socialization into collegiate institutions.

Brian D. Le, Iowa State University

Brian D. Le serves as a Student Programs Coordinator for Science Bound within the School of Education at Iowa State University. He hopes to pursue a PhD in Higher Education and ultimately serve in a role where he will further be able to support students from marginalized backgrounds.

Kelly Cunningham, University of Virginia

Kelly J. Cunningham serves as the Director of the Engineering Graduate Writing Lab in the School of Engineering and Applied Science at the University of Virginia. Her research spans corpus linguistics, discourse analysis and CALL. She received her PhD in the Applied Linguistics & Technology and Human Computer Interaction from Iowa State University. She also holds an MA in intercultural studies/TESOL and a BA in studio art & mathematics. She has worked with ESL students since 2007 and in graduate communication support since 2014.




How to Cite

Rodriguez, S. L., Espino, M. L., Le, B. D., & Cunningham, K. (2021). The influence of policy implementation in the Midwest: How an SSTEM program broadens participation and enhances engineering identity for community college students. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 29(January - July), 29.



Policy Implementation as an Instrument to Achieve Educational Equity