Researchers receive NSF Award to Backtrack IT Alumni Pathways

Marcia Mardis
Marcia A. Mardis

Marcia A. Mardis (FSU PI), iSchool professor and CCI Associate Dean of Research, Faye R. Jones (FSU Co-PI), CCI Senior Researcher, and Calandra Stringer (TCC PI), Associate Vice President of Academic Affairs recently received an award of $756,095 from the National Science Foundation (NSF) for their project titled, “Backtracking CTE Pathways: Identifying and Investigating Pathways and Critical Junctures in Two-Year Information Technology Programs.” The project is a collaboration between FSU and TCC.

Faye Jones
Faye R. Jones

In this study, Mardis and Jones will use institutional research and in-depth interviews to backtrack students’ undergraduate experiences. To do so, about 150 alumni who received either an AA or AS degree will have their institutional data (GPAs, grades, course selection, etc.) analyzed and be interviewed about their undergraduate experiences. The goal of the complementary interviews is to determine when and why students face hardships and successes while getting their education and how colleges can offer effective student supports. This method of research is known as backtracking.

“For example, we analyze your data, see you graduated, but you took an incomplete semester. We would ask you more about that, and find out that you were having some kind of an issue for which you needed support,” Mardis explains. “Through these interviews, we get an idea of what the student experience was and the responsiveness of the services the academic institution provides.”

Jones expands, saying, “Using backtracking will allow us to get to know more about the pathways of our students, especially women, minorities, and other underserved student groups.”

Jones developed the backtracking technique in 2013 on the FITC study that focused on 4-year IT students. In this new study, the focus will be on 2-year students, primarily from Tallahassee Community College (TCC). “The partnership with TCC is going to be great because it is local, but also allows us to explore North West Florida and eventually expand,” Jones says. The study will also engage other state and community colleges in NW Florida such as Pensacola State College, Chipola College, Gulf Coast State College, and Florida State College at Jacksonville.

The study will also have the support of CCI’s Associate Dean, Ebe Randeree, and FSU’s Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs and Metrics, Analytics and Institutional Data Administrator, Rick Burnette

Mardis describes this study as the culmination of a vision that has existed for many years. “The data are out there but not being used to solve problems, so now we can do that and set an example for other colleges and universities to do the same.”