UW Researchers Shine a Light on Community College Challenges

In addition to providing educational resources and work skills for Wyoming residents, community colleges around the state are an important bridge for students planning to transfer to the University of Wyoming in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.

UW faculty members Reshmi Singh, an associate professor with the School of Pharmacy; Rachel Watson, director of the Science Initiative’s Learning Actively Mentoring Program (LAMP) and a senior lecturer with the Division of Kinesiology and Health; and Rosemary McBride, an assistant lecturer of agricultural education with the School of Teacher Education, worked with educators from five of the state’s eight community colleges to learn how to better assist these educators -- and make STEM students’ transfer experience to UW successful.

Their research findings have been published in a manuscript titled “The Everyday Work of Rural-Serving Community College STEM Faculty: Lessons from an Institutional Ethnography Across Wyoming.”

Challenges exist for educators in rural community colleges around the state that can impact student success, the researchers say. Remote locations and expansive distance from colleagues can impact inclusiveness within an overall state educational structure. Watson, Singh and McBride’s publication has themes with quotes from the community college educators illustrating the challenges.

“We are a long way from (the university),” noted one community college faculty member. “Not just geographically, but in the winter, it is almost impossible some years to get back and forth. And we’re in a different bio-region.”

“Places where students can go and do an internship, they can work in the summer,” explained another college faculty member. “We don’t have that here. Why should a student be interested in biotechnology when there is no company in (our state) within 100 miles?”

As a first phase of understanding these challenges, UW’s representatives sought to identify effective partnerships between two- and four-year institutions that can grow from existing relationships.

“Even prior to performing this institutional ethnography, we had created a strong network of relationships with many of the educators at these five community colleges,” Watson says. “Many of the instructors have participated in the yearlong LAMP pedagogical training program and are already deeply committed to student-centered active learning. We drew on these connections to further support the educators and ultimately assist them in creating the most inclusive classrooms possible.”

In conducting focus groups with faculty and administrators from five community colleges, UW’s representatives noted several common themes shared by community college educators: gaps and barriers to STEM transfer students, differing administration and policy impacts, and feelings of professional isolation.

Having established the first phase of a working institutional ethnography across community colleges in Wyoming, UW’s representatives now plan on implementing next steps in building UW’s relationships with these colleges and their administrators, faculty and students.

“The findings from our institutional ethnography are informing the second phase of our work, which focuses on launching, sustaining and assessing faculty learning communities,” Watson says. “In these communities, we deepen learning about inclusive pedagogies, implicit bias and the importance of community networks.”

“We are inviting stakeholders from the university, community colleges and across the state of Wyoming who are working on different aspects of not only transfer work, but also providing resources for our students and educators to participate in an advisory board to mutually inform theirs and our work going forward,” Singh adds.

This study was approved by UW’s Human Subjects Review Board and funded by a learning grant to UW from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Science Education Program. It also was supported by UW’s Science Initiative. Findings were presented at The Qualitative Report annual conference, a transdisciplinary, international research conference in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., in late February.

Contact Us

Institutional Communications
Bureau of Mines Building, Room 137
Laramie, WY 82071
Phone: (307) 766-2929
Email: cbaldwin@uwyo.edu

Find us on Facebook (Link opens a new window) Find us on Twitter (Link opens a new window)