Research and Equity Scholarship Institute on Student Trajectories in Education

Federal Award ID Number: 1644990

PI: Felisha A Herrera Villarreal


Abstract at the Time of Award


Community colleges and Minority Serving Institutions, including Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs), provide several pathways and linkages to the STEM pipeline and are key access points to postsecondary education for underrepresented racial minorities (URM), specifically African Americans, American Indians, and Latinos. Student mobility and transitions across institutions are key factors to consider in assessing STEM degree pathways. This study seeks to examine STEM pathways for students who begin at community colleges, with a specific emphasis on URM students, student mobility across multiple institutions, and the role of HSIs. The research findings will provide a better understanding of how to assess STEM outcomes and hold potential to transform the structure and processes that underlie STEM postsecondary trajectories to promote racial equity and broaden participation in STEM. An integrated mixed methods approach utilizing multiple membership random effect modeling, social network analysis, and digital narratives, with both national and regional data, will provide a fine-grained and nuanced examination of the barriers and opportunities to STEM presented by individual characteristics and institutional contexts for URM students who may navigate STEM pathways across several institutions. The following research purposes will be addressed: 1) identify STEM student mobility patterns, showing the links between institutions and how these links impact students, 2) utilize advanced statistical techniques that account for student mobility across colleges to examine the student characteristics, college experiences, and institutional contexts that contribute to STEM outcomes, and 3) qualitatively deepen and clarify findings from the large scale data analysis to generate insights on students lived experiences.


Publications Produced as a Result of this Research


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Herrera, F.A. “A National Portrait of STEM Trajectories Through Two- and Four-Year Hispanic Serving Institutions" HETS ONLINE JOURNAL, v.XI, 2020, p.. doi: Citation details  


Zeledón-Pérez, M. J. “Bridging Success for STEM Students of Color: Factors that Predict Interactions with Institutional Agents at Community Colleges HSI and Non-HSI." JOURNAL OF APPLIED RESEARCH IN THE COMMUNITY COLLEGE, v.26, 2019, p.. Citation details  


Project Outcomes Report


Disclaimer: This Project Outcomes Report for the General Public is displayed verbatim as submitted by the Principal Investigator (PI) for this award. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this Report are those of the PI and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation; NSF has not approved or endorsed its content.


The Research & Equity Scholarship Institute on Student Trajectories in Education (RES-ISTE) at San Diego State University (SDSU) undertook the ED-SYSTEMS (Educational Settings Yielding Science, Technology, Engineering, & Math Success) project. This project investigated diverse STEM pathways, particularly for historically underrepresented minoritized students who began at community colleges, transferred to four-year universities, and attended Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs). Three overarching outcomes of this multifaceted, comprehensive study that reflect the intellectual merit and broader impacts are 1) a complete portrait of STEM student trajectories through tracking longitudinal data, 2) a nuanced account of the experiences of STEM students through qualitative data, and 3) inquiry based collaboration with institutions to inform STEM efforts regionally. 


1.  This study provided a national portrait of STEM student mobility by not only examining the upward transfer of community college students, but a variety of attendance patterns. This is significant because within the two-year sector students have higher rates of multiple institution attendance, yet we often examine student outcomes and trajectories in isolation. Utilizing longitudinal data, we were able to identify and compare mobility trends among STEM community college students, as well as explore the differences across gender, race, and other groups, and institution types (i.e, HSI status). While controlling for student mobility, we examined STEM student outcomes, which continued to demonstrate disparities across gender and race; therefore, illuminating the need to consider the multiple intersecting identities of minoritized STEM students. The data highlighted the important role that two-year HSIs play in providing access to STEM higher education for first-generation college students, women, Latinx, and other racially minoritized and underrepresented groups. Furthermore, differences in student outcomes across HSIs and non-HSIs at both the two- and four-year levels were observed. 


2. Considering that student mobility is often localized and most prevalent in geographical contexts where students have access to multiple institutions within driving distance, our study explored the nuanced trajectories of students across HSIs regionally. We noted greater co-enrollment and multiple institution attendance patterns within districts, yet enrollment across districts  was also common. Students noted class availability, compatible schedules, available resources (including STEM resources) and information gained through peer networks, among other factors, which influenced their enrollment decisions. Our study focused on students who had successfully navigated four-year transfer; therefore, many attributed their success to their persistence in seeking out information and support from a variety of sources. Students often relied on transfer support from targeted programs that provided additional services for specific populations on campus. However, students noted a need for STEM specific information about the transfer process and requirements to be centralized and accessible to both students and counselors to avoid miscommunication and misinformation. Students emphasized the value of specialized STEM programs that provided support to navigate STEM disciplinary culture and further develop their identities as STEM professionals, along with offering targeted advising and STEM research and internship opportunities. Given students' perspectives on the challenges within STEM disciplinary culture, institutions and key individuals involved on campus (e.g., faculty, counselors, administrators, program staff) must reconsider the impacts of interactions with STEM students, approaches to learning in STEM courses (i.e., collaboration vs. competition and isolation), and incorporate culturally validating pedagogy that centers the cultural values, knowledge, and experiences of students. The findings underscore the benefits of these campus efforts, and simultaneously draw attention to the need for collaboration between organizations to create more targeted support systems for minoritized students in STEM. 


3. Overall, findings and insights from ED-SYSTEMS informed the learning outcomes and activities for our dissemination efforts and collaborative sessions with our regional partners. While we disseminated our study results widely and held sessions nationally, we prioritized engagement with regional HSI partners to share important research findings and identify ways to utilize this information to collectively address and directly impact policy and practice in STEM, particularly focused on the critical transitions across two- and four-year institutions. To engage STEM education faculty, staff, and administrators at our partnering institutions, we worked with college professional learning coordinators and STEM departments to understand the existing challenges that persist for Latinx and other underrepresented minoritized students in STEM, as well as opportunities for enhancing system-wide support across institutions. 


ED-SYSTEMS advances the field's knowledge about diverse STEM educational trajectories, by highlighting students' voices and using a range of quantitative and qualitative methods at the national and regional levels. Findings have been shared broadly through professional and academic conferences, peer reviewed journals, book chapters, reports, digital narratives, and professional learning courses and workshops for community college and university STEM educators. For more information about ED-SYSTEMS project results, as well as our other NSF-funded projects that continue to advance our understandings of diverse STEM trajectories through community colleges and Hispanic Serving Institutions, please visit our website: