Experiential Learning and Professional Identity Development for Scientists Participating in K-12 Outreach: A Case Study of the Graduate Extension Scholars Program
Wilk, Ayla Arsel
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ABSTRACT To address 21st century environmental and economic issues, the practice of agricultural science has become more interdisciplinary, collaborative, and reliant on wider community connections. These changes have fueled demands to improve public agricultural literacy and strengthen the agricultural science workforce, increasing expectations for high-quality undergraduate teaching and public scholarship by agricultural science faculty. Unfortunately, faculty often lack professional preparation for this aspect of their work (Bagdonis and Dodd, 2010; Blickenstaff, Wolf, Falk, and Foltz, 2015). In other STEM fields, K-12 outreach by graduate students has gained popularity as a way to improve scientists' skills and outlook toward public scholarship. This thesis explored learning and professional identity development for participants in a K-12 outreach program for graduate students in the College of Agricultural Sciences at Virginia Tech. The theoretical framework of Kolb's (1984) experiential learning cycle and Lave and Wenger's (1991) situated learning theory were employed to explore these processes. Findings revealed that the Graduate Extension Scholars saw themselves as educators and public scholars both before and after participating in the program. Motivations for participation were related to identified gaps in their professional preparation. Participants believed that their knowledge, skill, and professional identity around teaching and public scholarship had been strengthened by their participation in the program. The program's constructivist experiential theoretical framework, community of practice, and extensive support structures were identified by participants as contributors to these outcomes. This study informs program evaluation and has broader implications for preparing future agricultural science faculty.
- Masters Theses