The Journey of Becoming and Belonging:  A Longitudinal Exploration of Socialization's Impact on STEM Students' Sense of Belonging

dc.contributor.authorGoldschneider, Benjamin Jareden
dc.contributor.committeechairPitterson, Nicoleen
dc.contributor.committeememberParetti, Marie C.en
dc.contributor.committeememberGodwin, Allisonen
dc.contributor.committeememberCase, Jennifer Margareten
dc.contributor.departmentEngineering Educationen
dc.date.accessioned2023-05-06T08:00:09Zen
dc.date.available2023-05-06T08:00:09Zen
dc.date.issued2023-05-05en
dc.description.abstractPersistently high attrition rates from STEM majors present a stubborn challenge for researchers, administrators, and faculty alike. To approach this problem, my dissertation examined the socialization processes by which students develop a sense of belonging to both their institution and their discipline. Previously identified as an important factor in students' persistence and overall satisfaction with their undergraduate experience, belonging is a critical piece of the retention puzzle. However, not every student experiences or develops belonging in the same way. This dissertation applied the theoretical lens of socialization to deepen the understanding of how social interactions help or hinder students' belonging to their university and chosen major alike. My dissertation work was grounded in the synthesis of two theoretical frameworks: Conrad et al.'s (2006) model of socialization and Strayhorn's (2018e) conceptualization of sense of belonging. The study took the form of an embedded case study of two similar disciplinary contexts within a large public land-grant Research 1 institution, with four students from each context for a total of eight participants. By leveraging four years of interview data from each participant, supported by institutional documentation, I addressed the question: In what ways does a student's socialization experience influence, if at all, their sense of belonging to both their chosen discipline and their university? Data analysis included qualitative coding, trajectory mapping, and thematic analysis. Trajectories were produced for each participant before expanding the analysis to examine patterns across and between the contexts. My findings addressed the mechanisms of socialization at the undergraduate level and how they evolved over time. The primary outcome of my work was a set of three distinct socialization trajectories, named the Anchored, who built strong socializing relationships early and maintained them throughout their undergraduate years; Independents, who neither sought nor wanted such relationships; and Wanderers, whose socializing relationships tended to be short-lived and inconsistent, although desired. Fourteen unique groups of socializing agents were identified, along with five common drivers for intentionally engaging with specific agents: personal and academic support, research and industry aspirations, and finding a path. Pre-college socialization experiences were salient for developing anticipatory belonging, as students who were exposed to their discipline or institution prior to arriving as students had an easier time becoming integrated to their communities. Once students arrived, their socialization trajectories tended to shape their feelings of belonging to the institution, with close ties forming for the Anchored, appreciation for general support among the Independents, and a mix of happiness and frustration for the Wanderers. By contrast, disciplinary belonging was more reliant on the individual participant's goals and interests. Disciplinary differences between the two contexts were identified but were limited in scope and generally linked to the career outcomes students associated with their chosen major rather than their experiences in the major. Finally, my research revealed that a strong sense of belonging in one domain of undergraduate life could be sufficient for a student to persist to degree completion despite weak or absent feelings of belonging in other areas.en
dc.description.abstractgeneralFor decades, students have been leaving STEM majors at alarmingly high rates despite the efforts of researchers, administrators, and faculty. To approach this problem, my dissertation examined how social interactions and relationships can help students feel like they belong in their chosen major and university. Previous research identified such feelings of belonging as an important factor in helping students persist to the completion of their degrees, and my work added onto this body of work by specifically examining the role of students' social connections. My dissertation utilized data from eight total students. Four of the students were chemical engineering students, with the remaining four from chemistry and biochemistry, together called the "chemical sciences." The data for this work included four years of interview data supported by institutional documents. Such documents provided information like curricular requirements, demographic and population information, and course information, which helped provide background for the students' interviews. Leveraging these data, I addressed the aforementioned interaction of students' social interactions and their feelings of belonging on campus and in their major. My data analysis was based around the creation of trajectories that would capture the evolution of a student's experiences over the course of their undergraduate career. Once trajectories were generated for each student, I was then able to look across the trajectories and identify patterns between and within them. The primary finding of my dissertation work was the emergence of three distinct patterns of how students' social interactions evolved over time, labeled the Anchored, who built strong and consistent networks that they maintained over two or more years; the Independents, who neither sought nor wanted such relationships; and the Wanderers, who had relationships and interactions that were often short-lived or inconsistent, but wanted more. Fourteen unique groups with whom students interacted were identified, along with the respective impacts said groups could have on students' feelings of belonging. Additionally, five drivers for seeking out interaction with these groups were identified: personal and academic support, research and industry aspirations, and finding a path. The experiences students had with their university or major prior to enrolling were found to be important for shaping the way students perceived their future, and those with greater exposure to their institution or discipline had an easier time seeing themselves fitting in and finding a place for themselves on campus once they enrolled. Once students arrived, their trajectory of interaction tended to shape how they felt about their institution, with close ties forming for the Anchored, appreciation for general support among the Independents, and a mix of satisfaction and frustration for the Wanderers. By contrast, belonging within the discipline was more reliant on the individual participant's goals and interests. Disciplinary differences between the two contexts were identified but were limited generally linked to the career outcomes students associated with their chosen major rather than their experiences in the major. Finally, my work revealed that when students felt like they belonged in one area of their undergraduate life, those feelings could support lacking feelings in other areas, helping them to persist to graduation.en
dc.description.degreeDoctor of Philosophyen
dc.format.mediumETDen
dc.identifier.othervt_gsexam:36623en
dc.identifier.urihttp://hdl.handle.net/10919/114945en
dc.language.isoenen
dc.publisherVirginia Techen
dc.rightsIn Copyrighten
dc.rights.urihttp://rightsstatements.org/vocab/InC/1.0/en
dc.subjectSocializationen
dc.subjectSense of Belongingen
dc.subjectSTEM Educationen
dc.subjectLongitudinalen
dc.titleThe Journey of Becoming and Belonging:  A Longitudinal Exploration of Socialization's Impact on STEM Students' Sense of Belongingen
dc.typeDissertationen
thesis.degree.disciplineEngineering Educationen
thesis.degree.grantorVirginia Polytechnic Institute and State Universityen
thesis.degree.leveldoctoralen
thesis.degree.nameDoctor of Philosophyen
Files
Original bundle
Now showing 1 - 3 of 3
Loading...
Thumbnail Image
Name:
Goldschneider_BJ_D_2023.pdf
Size:
1.55 MB
Format:
Adobe Portable Document Format
Loading...
Thumbnail Image
Name:
Goldschneider_BJ_D_2023_support_1.pdf
Size:
118.89 KB
Format:
Adobe Portable Document Format
Description:
Supporting documents
Loading...
Thumbnail Image
Name:
Goldschneider_BJ_D_2023_support_3.pdf
Size:
93.32 KB
Format:
Adobe Portable Document Format
Description:
Supporting documents