Competent and Employed: STEM alumni perspectives on undergraduate research and NACE career-readiness competencies
There have been large increases in the number of STEM graduates in the United States, but the majority of growth in non-healthcare, career opportunities are limited to computer specialists and engineering. Thus, two challenges await STEM students upon graduation: strong competition and employer concerns that applicants lack general competencies and work experience. Universities have responded to employer concerns with initiatives to enhance career readiness by embedding sets of competencies throughout curricula. However, these competencies have not been situated in STEM contexts and are derived largely from surveys of representatives from large companies who are unfamiliar with the job requirements specific to STEM positions. The current study uses a mixed methods approach as a first step to investigate the National Association of Colleges and Employers Career-Readiness Competencies in STEM with alumni who have participated in UREs and are currently employed in STEM careers. We propose that institutions can simultaneously situate skill development in STEM and provide meaningful, work-like experience through undergraduate research experiences (UREs). Findings demonstrate that UREs provide a fertile ground for the integration of career related competencies into undergraduate curricula and suggest institutions should strategically implement career-readiness competencies that reflect the priorities of STEM employers.
Keywords: STEM, career readiness, NACE competencies, alumni, undergraduate research experiences, employment