There is a dearth of literature on STEM-educated self-employed or entrepreneurs, so this dissertation is a contribution to education, and Entrepreneurship theory and practice. The dissertation includes four studies to identify common career blueprints that individuals pursued to gain career success and job satisfaction to flourish. This mixed-methods qualitative, quantitative and quantitative-qualitative research examines what experiences effectively prepare STEM-educated majority and underrepresented minority students (URM) for the workforce when 74% of STEM-educated individuals are not employed in STEM fields (U.S. Census Bureau, 2014). Half of all majority white STEM degree holders go into a STEM job, but the likelihood is lower than 30% among underrepresented minority (URM) workers (ESA, 2011). These statistics point to the importance of educating URM STEM students with skills beyond a STEM degree to achieve career success and job satisfaction. This is concerning when government funding is focused on increasing U.S. STEM-educated in STEM fields.
Study 1 is a qualitative study consisting of interviews with 38 individuals including 22 underrepresented minorities (URM) and 8 counselors whose insights were used to explore their definition and experiences of career success, education, transition into the workforce, diversity, workforce experience, and what fostered or hindered their career success. The study examines how individual experiences influence career success. The research revealed five characteristics common to career success: intrinsic satisfaction, the illusion that individuals can achieve career success based on their education alone, vocational experience, supportive guidance, and the presence of a personal champion. The research also suggests a need to educate individuals about the reality of the challenges of achieving successful careers and improvement in the career counseling process.
Quantitative Study 2 focuses on job satisfaction of URM with a Bachelor’s degree in STEM fields to determine if taking courses education, job-related training, research development and design work activity and self-employed entrepreneurship have a positive impact on job satisfaction. The data for this quantitative study is from the 2013 National Survey of College Graduates (NSCG) administrated by the National Science Foundation (NSF) using a random sample of 500 individuals in STEM fields. The key findings are that for STEM-educated individuals, taking college courses is negatively correlated with job satisfaction for both minorities and non-minorities, but self-employment and training improves this relationship. The relationship between work activity of research, development and design and work-related training have a positive impact on job satisfaction. These findings confirm that there is an illusion that STEM education will result in job satisfaction and success of URM which was found in the qualitative research.
Studies 3A and 3B include a quantitative and qualitative mixed methods study which triangulates around the concepts of support, training, and entrepreneurship. The qualitative study 3B consists of interviews with 32 STEM-educated individuals which included 12 STEM educators, 19 underrepresented minorities (URM) and 18 STEM-educated self-employed. The results indicate that the main reasons individuals were dissatisfied with their education was that it did not prepare them for the opportunity of starting their own business and the reality of the real-world work environment was often missing from the education environment. This study explored what was essential to achieve well-being and found that Positive Emotions (P), Engagement (E), Positive Relationships (R), Meaning (M), and Achievement/Accomplishment (A) was what people wanted but the experience they had lacked these elements (Seligman, 2012).
The quantitative study 3A used the same 2013 NSCG survey data from Study 2, but with two larger and separate samples of STEM-educated individuals which included 500 whites non-minority and 360 minority individuals in STEM fields who are self-employed and non-self-employed. The second quantitative study 3A confirmed the findings from Study 2 and further emphasized the importance of STEM self-employed individuals and entrepreneurs.
At the institutional level, the findings indicate that educational institutions are not doing enough, and a significant issue is the lack of knowledge regarding the real-world work experience and occupations, which perpetuates the illusion that education leads to career success which affects STEM-educated and non-STEM-educated alike. However, educational institutions and employers can effectively respond with internship programs, on-the-job training and counseling. At the individual level, individuals can see their careers as a journey with issues and problems to be solved along the way, starting in school and continuing well into their careers. Educational institutions and individuals can take the initiative and find mentors and be open to conversations about the realities of the work environment. The over-arching finding that education institutions are not doing enough are unified under four key issues and the effective actions that educational institutions and individuals can take: (1) The knowledge of internships, work experience and the reality of work environment is needed; (2) Support from individuals and groups indicate that educators, employers, and individuals can institute finding mentors, creating networks and take advantage of counseling to increase success. STEM education and knowledge of STEM entrepreneurial occupations plus real-world work experience are also needed; (3) There is a synergy for career success between STEM personality characteristics and entrepreneurs. The combination of STEM plus entrepreneurship knowledge of STEM occupations and real-world work experience in education is potent for career success. There are some important overlaps between characteristics developed in STEM education and characteristics useful to entrepreneurial initiatives and success. This is a critical finding of this dissertation since there is a dearth of studies connecting the two areas; and (4) The main findings are about URMs and the challenges they face. STEM education is a path to higher earnings, but institutional discrimination, the need to prove oneself, the lack of conversation about the challenges faced, and inflexibility in STEM work environments impede success. The implications for URM individuals is based on interviews about overcoming challenges and their entrepreneurial pursuits. The findings in this dissertation suggest that the institutional actions would benefit URMs’ career success at least as much as non-minority members, if not more.
The distinct differences between minorities and non-minorities are that URM and women interviewed express the craving and need for knowledge, support, and encouragement to be confident in a world where people of color and women are discriminated against, experience prejudice and inequality. They discussed the challenges of needing to work smarter, fastest and harder than everyone else, and still experience challenges which made entrepreneurship a vital avenue for success. Non-minorities were not concern about needing support, encouragement or confidence. Non-minorities greatest concerns were gaining knowledge to create opportunities and advancement. There was no discussion of challenges of discrimination or prejudice that prevented them from advancement, career success, and job satisfaction for non-minorities although they were asked the same question. The distinctions between minorities and non-minorities must be addressed to overcome inequalities, and this can start with having dialogs about the reality of the challenges and support needed by both to increase knowledge. Both groups yearn for knowledge which supports the research finding that the knowledge from training can increase job satisfaction for minorities and non-minorities.
There are important intersections between characteristics developed in STEM education and entrepreneurial initiatives and success. This STEM knowledge base can create more opportunities and aid in achieving global goals to save and change lives. Study 3B develops a Blueprint for STEM Entrepreneurs by drawing together the findings of: Education, Knowledge, Personality Characteristics, Support, Opportunity, Challenges, Entrepreneurship and PERMA which is an acronym for the five essential elements of well-being: Positive Emotions (P), Engagement (E), Positive Relationships (R), Meaning (M), and Achievement/Accomplishment (A) (Seligman, 2012). Many have discovered a combination of skills of human capital that gives them a path to follow and a job or business to create.
Overall, the four studies in this dissertation contribute to theory, practice and improving educational institutions, government STEM-funded programs, and businesses. This dissertation provides insights to assist with workforce management knowledge and skills to increase the number of diverse workers and identifying the positive and negative factors that impact job satisfaction for minorities and non-minorities. Considering the volatile political support of STEM programs and economic changes, the U.S. requires not just more STEM graduates, but also STEM URM graduates educated with skills and experiences to expand their employment opportunities to become entrepreneurs as well as employees to achieve job satisfaction and career success. To expand opportunities, this requires an improved educational institution that offers skills far beyond a narrow STEM education curriculum. STEM entrepreneurship is vital to our society and the U.S. economy, so it is imperative to identify what influences STEM-educated individuals to achieve success. This thesis is intended to enhance theory-building research designed to understand, predict, and facilitate the experience of individuals to achieve job satisfaction and career success of STEM-educated URM and non-minorities.