Women persisting in STEM: A learning-partnership narrative of first-generation students’ experiences with academic advising through academic probation
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Postsecondary institutions in the United States are tasked with recruiting and training the best and brightest in STEM disciplines in order to maintain the nation’s standing as a top research and production agent in these industries. Women have increasingly enrolled in STEM majors over recent decades, yet gender gaps persist. These obstacles are amplified when a woman in STEM happens to be the first from her family to pursue a college degree – being a woman in STEM alone can decrease her chances of persisting in the discipline. As many as one-third of college students today are First Generation Students and roughly 25 percent of college students are placed on scholastic probation at least once during their time in college. Being a woman and a First Generation Student (FGS) also increases the likelihood of dropping out of college, even before considering her academic major. Existing research points to the obstacles FGS face, ranging from college readiness to financial concerns; challenges that women in STEM must overcome, such as gender stereotypes and identifying a mentor; and the prevalence of scholastic probation among females in STEM and FGS, both in and outside STEM. Prior research has found clear benefits of building a partnership between students and a campus support system, such as a peer network or academic advisors, to support students in each of these populations to avoid scholastic probation or overcome its unique processes. This qualitative study used a narrative inquiry approach and explored the lived experiences of ten women, all FGS majoring in STEM at two Tier One Research Institutions. Participants have previously been placed on scholastic probation and shared their perceptions of academic advising and experiences with scholastic probation specific to STEM majors at their institutions. The study was guided by the Learning Partnerships Model (LPM). This model consists of three assumptions, meant to challenge students, and three principles to support them. LPM has been effectively applied in academic advising settings to support at-risk student populations. With regard to how participants felt advisors benefitted them prior to, during, and following being placed on scholastic probation at their respective institutions, students felt most supported when their advisors validated them as individual learners, gave them opportunities to build knowledge within peer and advising settings, and shared resources in a proactive manner. These findings align with the Learning Partnerships Model and suggest that students in this population would benefit from their institutions incorporating the model into various areas of operations, namely in academic advising units. Recommendations are provided for policy and practice in the areas of new student orientation advising, parent and family relations, academic advising practices, academic recovery programming, and peer support. Further research is required to examine the experiences of women in STEM, FGS, and students facing scholastic probation, as well as the perceptions of academic advisors regarding these policies and populations.