Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Center for Science and Math Education

Committee Chair

Dr. Rachel Gisewhite

Committee Chair School

Center for Science and Math Education

Committee Member 2

Dr. Kendrick Buford

Committee Member 2 School

Center for Science and Math Education

Committee Member 3

Dr. Alex Flynt

Committee Member 3 School

Biological, Environmental, and Earth Sciences

Committee Member 4

Dr.John Polk


One of the major issues that STEM graduates face is overcoming Imposter Syndrome, and there is a consensus amongst STEM graduates and job recruiters that the current higher education system is missing some elements that could better prepare students for a successful STEM career. A solution to this issue results from recent research on the importance of “soft skills.” In general, “soft skills” or non-technical skills, include communication, critical thinking, and self-motivation. These skills complement “hard skills,” or technical skills, such as skills needed for performing laboratory experiments, like pipetting and Western blotting. The lack of soft skills among recent graduates affects many STEM learning outcomes that are used to measure future success in STEM fields. This research investigates the impact on STEM identity through the addition of innovative, cost-effective, efficient, and easily adaptable methods of incorporating soft skills training in the formal and informal undergraduate STEM curriculum.

Investigating the integration of soft skills training will be completed by documenting the progress and experiences of students in the formal and informal learning environment. Soft skills training in the formal learning environment will be studied using studies enrolled in three inquiry-based biological sciences courses. Course activities have been designed to maximize student use of their soft skills to complete tasks. Investigating the integration of soft skills training in the informal learning environment will involve the use of a conversation starter game, QUONVO™, that requires students to use critical thinking, creativity, and innovation to generate conversations about the meaning of and implications of STEM content and issues. The purpose of the final study in this dissertation is to 1) add to the knowledge base on the state of college student engagement, performance, and future outlook in the post-pandemic world, 2) investigate the link between social capital and the development of a stable and positive professional identity, particularly among STEM majors, 3) determine the impact of the increased social media use during the pandemic on soft skills, specifically communication, and 4) explore the relationship between social media use, communication skills, and the quality of social capital.

Available for download on Wednesday, January 01, 2025