A consideration into ways biology-based student organizations facilitate participation in STEM
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Student involvement on their campus is a vital part of their experience in higher education. A lack of involvement and engagement can lead to a decreased sense of belonging on campus and in their chosen field of study. Researchers speculate that one reason students leave STEM is because students have not developed a strong perceived attachment to the field of science. One way that students may build this perceived attachment to science is through increasing their engagement and participation in science-based activities. By participating in science-based social organizations, students are exposed to new experiences they would not normally have during their coursework. The purpose of my study was to investigate how biology-based student organizations functioned as affinity groups and how these groups influenced individuals’ perceived cohesion to science. I followed three biology-based student organizations, biological honor society, microbiology club, and wildlife club, over the course of one academic year to identify the extent they exhibited the characteristics of affinity groups. After collecting and analyzing data from field observations, I found that all three groups exhibited the criteria of affinity groups to various degrees. Through analyzing student responses to an open-ended questionnaire, I was able to uncover the motivations students had for joining their respective student organizations and what benefits they reported receiving from their participation. I found three major overarching themes for what motivated students to join their respective student organization: they liked the content the organization was based on, to have some form of social outlet, or the reputation of the organization drew them into the organization. Students reported a wide range of benefits they received from their participation in these organizations. I grouped these benefits into five overarching themes: Networking, Professional Development, Learning Opportunities, Community Involvement, and Prestige. I found that there was some overlap between students’ motivations for joining their student organization and what benefit they received from their participation. With this overlap, I speculate that a feedback loop exists where students join an organization for a specific reason that guides what events they choose to participate in which then leads into the benefit they receive from their participation. Now that we better understand how these organizations function, what motivates students to join content-based student organizations, and what they are getting from their experiences, we can further promote these groups to new students. By joining a content-based student organization, students will be better able to find their place in science through networking with others in their field and honing and developing skills that they can take into the workforce, ultimately making them more competitive on the job market.