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Examining Transfer Student Experiences in STEM Using Science Identity and Trajectory


Transfer students have shown to experience decreased academic success and persistence in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) compared to non-transfer students. Studies have suggested that student STEM experiences may reposition their science identity trajectory, the movement towards or away from science; science identity describes how STEM experiences might influence persistence in STEM over time. Our study explores science identity and trajectory through the experiences of 29 transfer students pursuing STEM in hopes of better understanding what possible STEM events promote positive science identity trajectory. Interviews were conducted to explore students’ STEM experiences and associated outcomes and were later transcribed and qualitatively coded using QDA Miner software. Our findings highlight that positive STEM events are linked to positive event outcomes, the events’ impact on the student, and positive science identity trajectory. More specifically, positive STEM recognition events involving scientific meaningful others, such as professors, research advisors, and scholarship committees influence positive outcomes, positive science identity trajectory, and most likely a stronger science identity overall. Our results also show that students who experience negative STEM events interpret both positive and negative outcomes which suggests a neutral science identity trajectory without movement towards science. Overall, our study reveals the STEM events most associated with the formation of positive and negative science identity and trajectory. We hope that our findings will inform and guide policy makers, faculty, staff, and educational institutions on how to best support transfer students in forming positive science identities, trajectory, and increase transfer student STEM retention.

Keywords: transfer student, STEM, science identity trajectory, performance, recognition, interest

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