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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Immigrants’ Success in Science Education and Careers


The contribution of immigrants to the scientific and technological innovation and progress of the United States is significant. Beyond the existing statistics describing their status, this study explored the factors driving such immigrants’ success in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education and careers, focusing on their learning and career growth environments. The goal of this study was to seek and expose qualitative information for the development of a pro-active STEM curriculum of education and career enhancement, in addition to fostering such academic policy guidelines for STEM students and scholars in multicultural and diverse settings. The study targeted first generation students and scholars in terms of immigration status as well as university education, while also intentionally including all STEM field people, regardless of immigration status, in an effort to offer a more comprehensive view of success factors and needs in STEM, and also to seek non-immigrants’ view points on their immigrant peers’ issues. Anonymous survey responses were collected from 156 STEM individuals in North America, Asia, Europe and Africa, all of whom had higher education and/or career experiences in the United States. The survey revealed that the success of immigrants and non-immigrants alike in STEM education and careers is enhanced by a variety of factors including past education, institutional environment for mental and professional growth and active mentorship. Their success cannot be defined by grades, graduation rates, publications or patents alone. Other metrics of success identified by this study include the acquisition of respect from supervisors, peers, and community; the knowledge and skills for work and life gained within and beyond the university; and opportunities to provide significant measurable contribution in STEM fields throughout one’s career, regardless of immigration status. Considering the shifting US diversity and economic landscape mirrored by the changing definitions, roles and potential of minority and immigrant groups in US STEM fields, corresponding policies should be formulated, implemented and enforced from institutional to federal levels with the incorporation of such findings and continuous input from all stakeholders.

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