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Discussion

In Kitatoi’s narrative, the imposed environmental constraints in the education system when she was an adolescent had a long-lasting impact on how she saw herself. Kitatoi’s resilient agentic capabilities propelled her to change the trajectory of her life’s course. However, the route to engineering is lay'ered with hurdles; students must simultaneously see themselves as mathematics and physics type of people to feel as though they can do engineering (Godwin et al., 2016; Verdin, Godwin, & Ross, 2018). By enacting her agency and resiliently pushing past the environmental constraints that had left her as an academically ill-prepared adult, Kitatoi developed an identity as a math and physics person, and these identities supported her belief of being capable of pursuing an engineering career path. However, her journey through community college was challenged by a negative teacher—student interaction and by implicit gender bias of who gets to participate in the STEM curriculum. Kitatoi s identity of being a woman and a mother seemed at odds with the male-dominated makeup of the calculus- based physics courses and general culture of these courses. She came to see herself as someone who can do engineering through the performance and competence beliefs she developed in mathematics, through the recognition she received by the mathematics tutoring director that subsequently led her to become a math tutor. Kitatoi’s decision to enroll in the calculus- based physics courses was an agentic resilient act intended to respond to the imposed male-dominated environment and a response to her interest in learning how the world works. The identity-forming experiences throughout Kitatoi’s community college trajectory, in the context of mathematics and physics, supported her decision to pursue a career in engineering.

Importantly, Kitatoi’s counter-narrative emphasizes how an engineering career pathway is still open to nontraditional students who are relearning basic arithmetic skills. All students entering community' college, despite their current mathematical skills, should be encouraged to explore the options of a career in engineering. Students may be entering community colleges with preconceived notions of their academic capabilities, based on challenges or demoralizing experiences from their prior schooling. However, community college educators and counselors have the opportunity' to create a space where adult learners can begin to foster disciplinary role identities (i.e., in the mathematics and physics context). The brief by Rodriguez et al. (2019) offers a breadth of examples of current programmatic strategies that can support community college identity development. However, for those who are full-time parents, students, and also have a job, programmatic opportunities can add more work on top of their busy' schedules. Recognition as capable STEM learners by educators, counselors, and staff is important for students’ motivation and identity' development, but it is not the only factor. Educators could also help students shift their attitudes and beliefs about their STEM capabilities by' sharing their struggles and the resiliency of their effort toward achieving their goals. Lastly', understanding community college students’ trajectories through an agency lens shifts the victim-blaming discourse and deficit outlook of these groups of students.

Note

1. Pseudonym was selected by the participant due to sentimental value.

162 Dina Verdin

 
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