Exploring an Integrative Graduate Education Research Traineeship (IGERT): Using Organizational Culture to Understand How Programs Work

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Legislators & policy makers recognize the significance of STEM graduate education to issues of national security, innovation and economic competitiveness amongst global peers (Gonzalez & Kuenzi, 2012; Kuenzi, 2008). Federal policy allocates funding to faculty and institutions and establishes programs that ensure equitable opportunity for training, education, and employment in the STEM fields. Many of these efforts aim to address existing race/gender-based disparities in doctoral degree attainment amongst women and certain populations of color (Carney, Chawla, Wiley, & Young, 2006; Nerad & Cerny, 2000). There is minimal critique of existing programs in extant literature. Studies focus mainly on understanding program outputs and outcomes with no investigation of program culture or program processes or functions.

A nested conceptual model was created that employs the theoretical tools of Tierney’s Organizational Culture theory and Gopaul’s conceptualizations of existing graduate student socialization theory to guide a single site case study of an Integrative Graduate Education Research Traineeship (IGERT) Project. Data was collected through analyses of existing program documents, a survey of current and former IGERT student participants and 60-90 minute interviews with IGERT faculty, administration, and current & former students. Through data analysis the organizational structure and culture of the case site IGERT program was defined. Data also revealed the specialized training IGERT students received and the specific ways that the program influenced their socialization and professional development. Program experiences of students of URM populations were also described and discussed in relation to how the program promoted and sustained racial/ethnic diversity and intentionally supported URM students. Findings contribute to the complexity of understanding a STEM education program and how it functions within its surrounding environment. Existing limitations and organizational challenges of the program were also illuminated and explored. This research supplements and enhances existing scholarship on the IGERT and other programs designed to train doctoral students of and beyond populations underrepresented in STEM fields. This work will also be useful for developing new and sustaining existing programs that are designed to support STEM doctoral students to eradicate the problem of a lack of diversity in STEM graduate education & labor markets.