Using Support Networks as a Predictor of Success for STEM Degrees: Preliminary Results Detailing a Selection Process for Test Subjects Engaged in a Longitudinal Study of Low Socio-Economic Status American Undergraduate Students




support networks, socioeconomic status, bias, admissions, higher education


This study follows the selection process for participants in a National Science Foundation S-STEM grant program for low socio-economic students. State land grant institution were created to provide states with technical universities for mid- to lower-class citizens, but they have generally failed to deliver successful instruction to residential, low-socioeconomic status, underrepresented minority students. There is a need for more research on additional predictors to assess the potential of non-traditional students in the admissions process. The primary research question in this work is whether students from low-SES backgrounds possessing lower incoming metrics can still have success earning a STEM degree with the help of a web of support adults. This metrics-based selection process was generated from a five-year study of underrepresented minority (URM) students who had previously succeeded in earning an engineering degree, even though they were not originally admitted into engineering. The selection process also asked students to identify the members of their support network, how they used this support to succeed in life, and culminated in an on-campus interview. The high school metrics for these students were found to be significantly lower than their engineering peers, but the average number of anchor/mentors that were identified was 6.2. These 21 students are currently performing well and will be compared against other residential students for retention, performance, and graduation through their time at the institution.

Author Biographies

Grace Lynn Baldwin, Purdue University Agricultural & Biological Engineering

Grace L. Baldwin joined the Rising Scholar NSF S-STEM program in the Summer of 2017 as a Graduate Research Assistant. She completed her Bachelor of Science degree at Purdue University in Agricultural and Biological Engineering (ABE) with a focus in Environment and Natural Resources Engineering. She has worked with the Rising Scholars’ Program during the completion of her Master of Science in Agricultural and Biological Engineering and into her current Ph.D. program at Purdue University also in ABE.As part of the Rising Scholars’ program, she has helped plan and organize the student recruitment events, align students with summer research experiences and faculty mentors, and conduct student interviews for program analysis and evaluation. Ms. Baldwin has actively contributed to the collection and analysis of data for the Rising Scholars program, as well as the dissemination of information about the progress of the program.

Virginia Booth-Womack, Purdue University Minority Engineering Program

Virginia L. Booth-Womack received her B.S. in Industrial Engineering and a B.A. in Psychology while at Purdue University. She is currently the Director of Minority Engineering Programs in the College of Engineering. She assumed the position in 2004 after 18 years of manufacturing experience. Her last assignment was Lean Manufacturing Manager for the for the 3.7L and 4.7L Mack Engine facilities at Chrysler Corporation in Detroit, Michigan. Virginia has applied lean manufacturing concepts to identify and close the achievement gap between under-represented minority engineering students and the total engineering cohort. This was achieved focusing on first semester performance and first year retention through implementation of an aggressive transition program targeting first year engineering students from historically under-represented groups. She recently was called upon to serve as interim Executive Director for the National Society of Black Engineers from December 2013 through August 2014 during which time the organization experienced membership growth and strong metric focus towards goal attainment.

Sarah E. LaRose, Purdue University Agricultural Sciences Education & Communications

Sarah E. LaRose joined the Department of Agricultural Sciences Education and Communication at Purdue University in the fall of 2018 as an Assistant Professor of Agricultural Education. She earned a Bachelor of Science in Animal Science and a Master of Arts in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Connecticut, and her Ph.D. in Agricultural Education and Communication from the University of Florida. Dr. LaRose has over 13 years of experience in agricultural education in secondary and postsecondary settings. Since joining the faculty at Purdue, Dr. LaRose serves as a teacher educator, preparing future agricultural educators to meet the needs of a diverse array of learners in their classes. She teaches coursework in curriculum design, laboratory teaching practices, and teaching methods in agricultural education. Central to all of Dr. LaRose’s work as an educator and a scholar is an effort to address inequities in agricultural education curriculum, program design, and recruitment practices.

Carol Sallman Stwalley, Purdue University Minority Engineering Program

Carol S. Stwalley joined the Minority Engineering Program team in the fall of 2007 as Recruitment and Retention Analyst. She earned her Bachelor of Science in Agriculture and Biological Engineering (ABE), MSABE, and PhD from Purdue University. Carol has more than 14 years in diversity work with considerable background working with the Women in Engineering Programs at Purdue. In her current capacity as Recruitment and Retention Analyst for the Minority Engineering Program and the Purdue Office of Institutional Assessment, Dr. Stwalley collects, analyzes and manages data pertaining to the outreach, recruitment, retention and graduation of engineering students from historically underrepresented groups.

Robert Merton Stwalley III, Purdue University Agricultural & Biological Engineering

Robert M. Stwalley III joined the Agricultural & Biological Engineering department as a faculty member in the fall of 2013 and is currently an Assistant Clinical Professor. He earned his Bachelor of Science in Agriculture and Biological Engineering (ABE) and his M.S.E. and Ph.D. from Mechanical Engineering at Purdue University. Dr. Stwalley is the former Director of Professional Practice at Purdue, has more than 20 years in STEM education, and has been a long-term advocate for improving equity in education. He is a long serving public school board member and President of the Indiana School Board Association. In his current capacity as an ABE professor, Dr. Stwalley works on precision livestock instrumentation to improve animal welfare and performance, increasing potable water access in the developing world through tube well utilization, and equity in access to higher education for low socio-economic status students. Dr. Stwalley developed the Rising Scholars program to help demonstrate that access and support are the most crucial elements of success in higher education for STEM majors.




How to Cite

Baldwin, G. L., Booth-Womack, V., LaRose, S. E., Stwalley, C. S., & Stwalley III, R. M. (2022). Using Support Networks as a Predictor of Success for STEM Degrees: Preliminary Results Detailing a Selection Process for Test Subjects Engaged in a Longitudinal Study of Low Socio-Economic Status American Undergraduate Students. International Journal of Engineering Pedagogy (iJEP), 12(6), pp. 16–49.