Recent figures on the state of poverty within the U.S. and throughout the world suggest that even though advancements in science and technology (S&T) have had a tremendous impact on human capacity, the overall impact of S&T on creating a more equitable world remains limited. Despite the importance of preparing socially responsible graduates in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) to address the current state of poverty and inequality, higher education research focused on STEM education has predominantly framed notions of student success with respect to the maintenance of U.S. global economic competitiveness, largely focusing on steering more students into the STEM disciplines and solely developing their STEM competencies to specifically fill workforce roles. The few studies that have examined the development of STEM students' outcomes critical to promoting a more equitable society have generally examined the impact of one program or course.
To address this gap in the literature, this study used frameworks of undergraduate socialization (Vreeland & Bidwell, 1966; Weidman, 1989, 1979) to examine the individual experiences and institutional contexts that affect STEM bachelor's degree recipients' development of two democratic educational outcomes seven years after college entry: social agency and values toward conducting research that will have a meaningful impact on underserved communities. In order to properly account for the nested structure of the data, this study employed multilevel modeling on a national sample of 6,341 STEM bachelor's degree recipients across 271 institutions. Longitudinal student data from the 2004 CIRP Freshman Survey and 2011 Post-Baccalaureate Survey was merged with institutional data from the Integrated Postsecondary Educational Data System and CIRP Faculty Surveys.
Various undergraduate socialization experiences and institutional contexts were found to influence STEM students' democratic educational outcomes, including academic majors, participation in student organizations and research, experiences with faculty, and peer and STEM faculty normative contexts. Findings suggest the importance of taking a comprehensive approach to supporting long-term student development by providing individual experiences and promoting institutional contexts that facilitate students' democratic educational outcomes. The findings have implications for curriculum and program development in STEM education to maximize the development of STEM students' values toward using research and sociopolitical involvement to promote a more equitable society.