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

Sarah L. Rodriguez, Maria L. Espino, Brian D. Le, Kelly Cunningham


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.


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

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Copyright (c) 2021 Sarah L. Rodriguez, Maria L. Espino, Brian D. Le, Kelly Cunningham


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