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Persistence Patterns of Mathematics and Science Majors: A Profile of Highly Motivated Freshmen

Description: Despite an increasing demand for college graduates skilled in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics ("STEM") fields, a substantial number of students who choose these majors leave after taking their first-year "gateway" math and science coursework. Research has shown GPA to be a salient predictor of persistence in STEM majors: Students who earn high grades in gateway courses are more likely to continue, and those who earn low grades are more likely to leave. However, a small number of students defy that expectation: Despite a low gateway course GPA, they persist not just to the sophomore year but all the way to graduation. The purpose of this study was to determine what other experiences, motivations, or attributes aside from academic performance influence these students to persist. A qualitative approach was taken with the use of semi-structured interviews, which provided a means for analysis based on insights directly from students. An invitation was sent to a cohort of graduating math and science majors at a large public institution, and 10 eligible volunteers were chosen to participate. A thematic analysis was conducted to seek common themes in the students' interviews regarding their experiences in their gateway coursework, their feelings towards their chosen major, their beliefs about their academic proficiency, their motivations for continuing in their major, and other prominent characteristics they attributed to their persistence. Five themes were found: Ambition, dedication, achievement, culture shock, and resilience. Of the five themes, four are attributes of the students themselves: Ambition, dedication, achievement, and resilience. The fifth, culture shock, is something that happened to them, although it does contain information about the students insofar as how they handled the situation. The end result was the identification of a specific group of students: High achievers majoring in math and science who are self-driven and independent, as well ...
Date: August 2016
Creator: Gonzales, Erin E
Partner: UNT Libraries

Educational Uplift along the US-Mexico Border: How Students, Families, and Educators Cultivate a College-Going Culture in Contested Terrain

Description: Using critical race theory and LatCrit as conceptual frameworks, I conducted a qualitative instrumental case study of a cadre of self-identified Mexican-American and Hispanic college students who bring college knowledge, goodwill, and aid to their border town communities. The purpose of this study was to explore how college knowledge and other forms of academic capital are transmitted and co-constructed in the contested terrain of the borderlands. Primary data sources included semi-structured interviews, participant and non-participant observation, and personal artifacts (e.g. newspaper articles, college admissions essays, social media, etc.) collected from 17 full-time undergraduate student participants, 11 males and 6 females, ranging from 19 to 22 years old, who were active members of the Gates Millennium Scholars Program. Supplemental data sources included semi-structured interviews with 23 family members and 9 educators identified by student participants, as well as a review of public records regarding student participant's border town communities (e.g. newspaper articles, census data, educational statistics, etc.). Findings detail how this group of college students manages the 'scholar' distinction in their hometown and utilizes distinct methods to promote academic capital formation. Specifically, this study delineates the following four types of scholars: (1) pioneers, (2) guardians, (3) ambassadors, and (4) advocates. Ultimately, this research highlights the importance of college students' ingenuity in response to enduring system inequality in higher education, particularly along the U.S.-Mexico border, with implications for research theory, policy, and practice.
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Date: August 2017
Creator: Sanchez, Nydia C
Partner: UNT Libraries