Date of Award

Summer 8-2020

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Educational Foundations & Leadership


Community College Leadership

Committee Director

Christopher Glass

Committee Member

Felicia Commodore

Committee Member

Karina Arcaute


The overall number of students from diverse backgrounds and women that graduate from community college with degrees in high paying Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) disciplines is unacceptably low. The number of opportunities to gain exposure to STEM-based expressions of technology to overcome the dearth of exposure in high school is limited in community college. 3D Printing uses computer-controlled machines to build physical objects one layer at a time starting from the bottom up. The computer-controlled nature of 3D Printing provides a low risk, low cost platform to exercise elements of computer programming and engineering.

This study was a phenomenological, qualitative study that was designed to fully describe the process of community college student engagement with 3D Printing. There were three data collection components in the study; first was an initial interview combined with naturalistic observation. Second was recorded documentation in the form of 3D printed objects that students produced. Third was a culminating interview of the participants after they had engaged in a critical number of 3D Printing activities.

The results of the study were overwhelming. Students who aspired to be engineers used the lab to sharpen their skills in a low-stakes, high reward setting. Students who worked in the lab expressed greater confidence in their STEM skills. Students considered changing their majors to STEM academic courses of study from social science. Female students overcame a lifetime of counter-messages about women in STEM. Finally, a mountain biking component was designed, manufactured, and field tested by an aspiring engineer who had yet to take a single course in the college engineering curriculum.

Based on the findings, it is recommended that 3D Printing be applied more broadly in student supported, peer educated lab settings. STEM majors, in particular engineering and computer science students see a great value in using the machines. Long term study of the retention and graduation rates of students who engage in 3D Printing will be useful for colleges and universities who seek to increase the number of graduating STEM majors at their institutions.