Community College Research Initiatives

March 15, 2023

 Transformative partnership praxis for equitable STEM transfer 

As the STEM Transfer Partnership (STP) program approaches the one-year mark, we are able to reflect on the strategies for success that our two-year and four-year institutional partners have developed in their work to advance their partnerships and increase STEM transfer success for low income students. In our second data note on the STP program, we describe the ways STP partnership teams are dismantling barriers through networks of transformative partnership praxis, building multi-layered and flexibly structured communities. 

 Over the course of 12 months, CCRI has supported the progress of STP teams and their plans of action aimed at improving STEM transfer for students at their institutions. Teams have engaged in two full-community gatherings as well as monthly coaching sessions. Throughout, CCRI has collected data on their experiences through participant observation, survey, and document analysis. Examining this data, we find that teams often experience similar barriers in their efforts to implement systemic change in STEM transfer processes, most notably low-income student recruitment and long term program sustainability. In our recent data note, we look at how partnering institutions respond to these challenges. We find that taking steps toward institutional transformation requires participants to build flexible and multi-layered communities, networks that draw upon resources and expertise from beyond the team membership.  

 At this intermediate stage of the program, many STP teams are working on the big problems that make the work of expanding STEM access and supporting transfer students so challenging. One central challenge is the question of how to recruit students from low-income backgrounds to STEM fields and how best to support them through transfer and degree completion. What are the best ways to reach out to these students in the early years of their college education? How can support programs engage these students as they juggle the competing priorities of school, family, and work schedules? In tackling these questions, teams are often prompted to expand the boundaries of their networks of praxis, connecting with programs such as TRIO and MESA that have a well-established set of strategies for engaging and supporting low-income students. Rather than trying to ‘reinvent the wheel’ as several participants phrased it, teams are joining forces with partners across their institutions in collaborations that benefit low-income students in many ways. Teams are also extending their networks to engage institutional leaders, finding ways to engage college and university administrators in ways that broaden the impact of their work. 

 STP teams are not limiting their outreach to their respective institutions but, rather, reaching beyond the college and university of their partnership to include not only other institutions but also policymakers, students and families, and professional networks. The STP program is designed to embed the work of partnerships within a community of practice, invested professionals committed to interventions to improve STEM transfer. The purpose of the biannual convenings is to foster cross-community collaboration and learning. The most recent data note describes how these kinds of connections are helping teams identify resources and solve complex problems. As they look to the future to map out a plan for long term sustainability, they draw upon ideas from other teams, using those ideas to connect with policymakers, industry partners, and others in ways that support programs and interventions that will continue to improve STEM transfer success beyond the life of the STP grant. 

 Each reconfiguration and expansion of community creates new opportunities for equitable STEM access. While the data reported here demonstrate how networks of praxis support problem solving for STP teams, the impact of expanding the community goes beyond finding solutions to specific problems. Teams are learning new skills, developing new partnerships, and incorporating new resources into their work in ways that create benefits for the college and university beyond STEM programs.