Academic journal article Career Development Quarterly

Understanding How Peer Mentoring and Capitalization Link STEM Students to Their Majors

Academic journal article Career Development Quarterly

Understanding How Peer Mentoring and Capitalization Link STEM Students to Their Majors

Article excerpt

This study investigated the role of peer mentoring and voluntary self-development activities (i.e., capitalization) in anchoring science, technology, engineering, and mathematics students to their college majors. Online data were collected from 214 undergraduate students. As hypothesized, mentoring was positively related to capitalization, and both mentoring and capitalization were positively related to satisfaction with one's major, affective commitment to one's major, involvement in one's major, and willingness to be a mentor. Contrary to expectations, capitalization did not mediate the relationship between peer mentoring and student outcomes, suggesting that these constructs contribute independently to positive outcomes. Implications and future research directions are discussed.

Retention issues in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) areas of the U.S. economy are well documented. Dropout rates are high among undergraduates, particularly among women and minorities in the majors of computer science and engineering (National Science Foundation [NSF], 2010). This has contributed to a situation in which the United States is seeing fewer students successfully beginning STEM careers at a time when global competition is high, and the current economic climate has placed a premium on scientific and technological innovation (National Science Board [NSB], 2010). As a resuit, the issue of retention in STEM fields has attracted much research interest. A recent report by NSB (2010) stressed the need for the development and retention of talented individuals from all demographics to keep up with other developed nations, which are rapidly outpacing the United States in STEM development. Women continue to be underrepresented in these fields, and although minority groups represent a fast-growing subset of the U.S. college-age population, this is not reflected in the demographics of individuals receiving STEM degrees (NSF, 2010). Underrepresented groups have described STEM fields as having a "chilly" (Foster et al., 1994, p. 3), unwelcoming climate, which may contribute to their departure, suggesting that the source of the retention problem extends beyond the subject matter.

The careers and STEM literatures concur that career development does not begin with entry into the workforce (e.g., Major & Morganson, 2009; Watson & McMahon, 2005). The professional development experiences of undergraduates serve as a form of anticipatory socialization for the workforce (de Vos, de Stobbeleir, & Meganck, 2009). Moreover, identification with and attachment to one's field develop over the course of the life span, beginning in childhood and continuing through the college years and into the workforce (Ferreira, Santos, Fonseca, & Haase, 2007; Vondracek & Porfeli, 2011).

Professional identity can be indicated by positive attitudes toward one's career and work experiences, such as career satisfaction, career involvement, and affective organizational commitment (Blau et al., 2008). Among college students majoring in STEM, satisfaction, involvement, and commitment to one's major are corollary constructs. Given the ultimate goals of building and retaining a competitive STEM workforce, this research focuses on methods known to foster professional identity in the workforce that research suggests are also applicable at the college level. Specifically, the current study examines the contributions of peer mentoring and voluntary self-development participation (termed capitalization) to professional identity indicators among STEM majors. The relationships between these constructs and outcomes related to professional identity (i.e., satisfaction with major, affective commitment to major, and involvement with major) were independently tested, and a mediated model was examined to determine whether peer mentoring and capitalization work together to encourage professional identity development.

Peer Mentoring

Mentoring is an essential contributor to individual development in workplace and academic settings (Campbell & Campbell, 1997; Eby, Allen, Evans, Ng, & DuBois, 2008). …

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